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Whitney Lays Off 15 Workers Amid Mounting Financial Losses

Another round of coronavirus staff reductions has come to the Whitney Museum of American Art, as 15 workers in 11 departments were told they were being laid off, the museum’s director, Adam Weinberg, said in an email to employees last week.

The move was cast as part of an ongoing attempt to address the dire financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The layoffs were first reported by Artnet News.

The Whitney shut down last March, as did other museums and cultural institutions in New York City, because of the pandemic.

Since reopening in August, Weinberg wrote, ticket sales had been down by 80 percent compared with the same period the previous year.

“As many of you have seen firsthand, our visitation remains extremely low,” Weinberg wrote, adding, “Cutbacks to our on-site events and programming have greatly reduced revenue.”

The email message was shared by the Whitney with The New York Times.

The museum’s audited financial statement for the fiscal year that ended in June 2020 appears to show the beginning of the effect Weinberg described. Total admissions revenue for that year was listed as $5.8 million, compared with $13.5 million for the previous year.

The museum’s website lists three current exhibitions that have opened since August. They include “Nothing is So Humble: Prints From Everyday Objects”; “Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop,” chronicling a collective of Black photographers established in New York City in 1963; and oil paintings by Salman Toor.

In the last year, several other major museums have also been reeling from the pandemic. The New Museum furloughed some staff members and laid off others, union members stated. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation turned to furloughs and pay cuts. And the Metropolitan Museum of Art thinned its ranks through layoffs, furloughs and voluntary retirements.

Last year, the Whitney was reported to have laid off 76 employees while preparing to lose at least $7 million because of the shutdown.

In his email message last week, Weinberg indicated that the toll had been much heavier, writing, “Unfortunately, the pandemic is prolonging the Whitney’s financial losses, which to date amount to $23 million.”

While acknowledging recent positive news related to vaccines, Weinberg sounded several notes of caution, saying economic recovery in the cultural sector and other areas would be gradual and possibly erratic and noting that New York City’s tourism agency had projected that it may take until 2025 for visitors to return to New York in the same numbers as before the pandemic.

“We don’t know how long this period of extreme difficulty will continue,” he added. “And we are projecting further significant revenue losses.”

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