In a letter by Arnold Lehman, the director of the Brooklyn Museum on June 16, it is declared that the museum has reduced the workforce by 10% including both laying off 12 employees and buy-out departures. Eventually, the museum joins a long list of art institutions which use staff reduction to cut the budget. Indianapollis, Detroit, Walters, and even Metropolitan Museum of Art (closing store staff in this case) have declared laying off early this year.
Because deaccession collections to cover basic operational cost is not accepted by Association of Art Museum Directors, there are little means for large institutions to balance their budget sheets. However, art institutes should not be operated like corporations where balance sheets are the priority concern. The loss of the people for museums is like the loss of memory for a person. A few years ago when the Brooklyn Museum announced to create two “teams,” one for collections and one for exhibitions and correspondingly led to a series of curator departure, it caused sharp criticism from peer institutes. The institutional memory and experience are not instilled with the objects, but with the people who study and interpret them.
In the letter, no specific detail is given about who quit or lost the jobs except the 10% staff are from different departments. But on the Brooklyn Museum blog, a local artist Ash Meer commented that “each of the employees of the museum is a valuable part of this community. They are contributing to our community by providing a service, utilizing our neighborhood businesses, welcoming visitors, and improving the level of collective dialogue. These are precisely the sort of community members that we want more of, not less.” I totally agree.