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Headlands Center for the Arts Lays Off Five Staff Members, Citing Fundraising Shortfalls

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Two former army barracks seen at dusk with blue and orange light
A view of Headlands Center for the Arts' campus buildings. (Tom Ide)

On Jan. 19, Headlands Center for the Arts quietly laid off over a quarter of its staff, eliminating five full-time positions from the 18-person nonprofit.

Known as one of the preeminent art residencies in the country, Headlands also provides grants, fellowships and studios to contemporary artists, all from their location within converted Army barracks in the Marin Headlands, a National Parks site.

Executive Director Mari Robles cited fundraising shortfalls, specifically the reduction of two major gifts and significantly lower-than-expected annual fundraising. “This sequence of events over the course of the second half of 2023 led Headlands into a financial position that required cuts in order to remain in operation,” Robles wrote via email.

“This decision was not made lightly, but it will allow Headlands to continue fulfilling its commitment to serving artists and providing a platform for creativity and expression,” she stated.

The eliminations included two positions from communications, one from programs and two from operations. The cuts from communications and operations represent the entirety of those departments. Robles said the organization will operate with a reduced staff for the foreseeable future.

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The layoffs were not announced publicly by Headlands, but came to light in a social media post shared on Jan. 29 by one of the former employees. Robles confirmed the layoffs by email. Two employees have also resigned since the layoffs and one new hire — a director of development — has joined the staff, which now numbers 12.

In conversations with the five former employees, the cuts were described as sudden and unexpected. Several were senior-level staff, and the majority had worked for the nonprofit for four years or longer.

In 2023, Headlands’ operating budget was $5.2 million, up from $4.1 million in 2022. Robles says approximately 40% of these added expenses came from the unexpected cost of lead remediation in the studio building; they also repainted the gym last year. Both represent deferred maintenance on the campus.

In December 2023, after many years of negotiations, Headlands signed a new 30-year lease with the National Parks Service. The agreement includes significant financial requirements to maintain and repair the buildings the art center occupies.

The cuts, Robles said, had to align with the organization’s commitment to artist programming — the next cohort of residents will arrive in March, and fellowship programs are ongoing — while also allowing them to maintain their relationship with the National Parks Service. No cuts were made in January to the facilities staff, which is currently just two full-time positions responsible for campus maintenance.

The duties of those eliminated will be shared among remaining Headlands employees and some contract services. Referencing the organization’s early, scrappier days, Robles referred to this current period of time as “cocooning,” as the organization works to build financial stability.

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