Hundreds of Exploratorium Workers Face Layoffs, Salary Reductions in SF

Revenue is down 80 percent since the Exploratorium closed on March 12.  (© Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu)

The latest local arts organization to announce workforce cutbacks during mandatory shutdown is the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s waterfront museum of science, art and human perception.

On Tuesday, museum leadership announced layoffs and hours reductions affecting some 85 percent of employees, an Exploratorium staff member confirmed. The cuts include salary reductions for nearly 250 employees, with half of them reduced to minimum hours; hours suspensions for 150 on-call event staff; and layoffs of more than 100 part-time student workers.

Revenue is down 80 percent since the Exploratorium closed on March 12, and the museum faces an estimated $5 million in quarterly losses. Museums throughout the region are shuttered in accordance with local and statewide orders to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the Exploratorium much more than anything we have faced in our first half-century,” Chris Flink, director and chief executive of the Exploratorium, said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported the cutbacks on Tuesday.

Laid off employees will be eligible for rehire when the Exploratorium reopens. Museum leadership expects to reopen July 1. In the interim, employees who previously had health benefits will retain them. Leadership figures including Flink are also taking pay reductions.

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The Chronicle also quoted Kate O’Donnell, SEIU 1021 chapter president for the Exploratorium, saying the union appreciates “management’s shared values of protecting our employees and their health benefits” and the “commitment to share job reduction burdens across the museum.”

The Exploratorium’s revenue for the fiscal year ending in 2018 was $51.5 million, according to its most recent available tax return. It has a $60 million endowment, according to its website.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last week announced layoffs and furloughs affecting more than 300 staff, and Museum of the African Diaspora has laid off seven of 18 employees.

A San Francisco Arts Alliance survey found 145 local arts organizations anticipate losing as much as $73 million if the coronavirus crisis proceeds through summer. 28 percent of them were contemplating layoffs as of March 20. Most have reduced or suspended contractor hours.

The City of San Francisco last month pledged $2.5 million to a relief fund providing grants and low-interest loans to artists and arts organizations economically impacted by coronavirus, joining a growing number of fundraising efforts similarly aimed at supporting the cultural sector.

The $2 trillion federal aid package signed into law last week includes $75 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. 40 percent of the funds are for state partners including California Humanities and the California Arts Council.