San Francisco Museum of Modern Art lays off 20 Citing Attendance drop

Friday, November 17, 2023
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art lays off 20 Citing Attendance drop

In a letter published on the museums' website, San Fransico Museum of Modern Art director Chris Bedford explained the restructuring.

As a public-serving institution, SFMOMA is committed to meaningful communication with our community, which includes the individuals who comprise our staff, board, artists, members, visitors, and volunteers. In this spirit, we are sharing context and information about recent strategic decisions that SFMOMA has made in response to our current economic landscape and to ensure the museum’s ongoing sustainability.

SFMOMA is facing a challenging post-pandemic recovery. Despite the growth in visitorship since reopening in March 2021, our fiscal year 2023 attendance was about 65% of what it was in fiscal year 2019, mirroring the reduced foot traffic in San Francisco’s Downtown Core and our city’s broader economic issues. General admissions and membership fees are essential sources of financial support. Our lower attendance figures coupled with rising costs and the forthcoming exhaustion of pandemic-related relief funds have placed pressure on SFMOMA’s finances and necessitated an assessment of our budget, operations, and program.

Over the past nine months, our leadership team, with the support of members of our Board of Trustees, has conducted benchmarking studies to aid us in making important decisions for SFMOMA’s near-term stability and long-term sustainability. Together, the changes SFMOMA is making are part of an ongoing holistic approach that embraces both revenue generating and cost saving measures that recognize the reality of the economic landscape and our position within it. These decisions reflect the museum’s careful consideration and analysis regarding the proactive steps necessary to secure our financial trajectory and enable us to successfully fulfill our vision and serve our community well into the future.

This work underpinned the decision, announced earlier this year, to increase SFMOMA’s general admissions and its single- and dual-level memberships for the first time since 2016, and to adjust the number, type, and length of exhibitions the institution presents. The programmatic changes, which have already begun to take effect, prioritize those exhibitions that have the greatest impact for our audiences and offer new scholarship and innovation. These decisions, among others, such as enhancing food and beverage offerings at the museum, prioritize and balance audience experience and impact, operational efficiency, and fiscal responsibility. The efforts are further bolstered by the museum’s ongoing fundraising initiatives, which remain essential to securing SFMOMA’s future.

In tandem with these actions, it has become clear that we also need to make strategic changes to our workforce. Specifically, we are eliminating 7 currently filled positions—a reduction of approximately 2% of our current staff—as well as 13 open positions that will not be refilled. The decision to lay off staff is tremendously difficult and one we actively worked to avoid. The people who work at SFMOMA are passionate, dedicated, and driven by the power and importance of art. While we have made the decision to eliminate a select number of positions, we will continue to assess department needs and related hiring. This balance is essential to streamlining our operations and optimizing programmatic priorities.

Despite the difficulty of this moment, our vision remains steadfast and ambitious: to sustain a welcoming museum that offers a robust range of exhibitions and programs that connect to our contemporary lives, give voice to previously underrepresented artists and thinkers, and expand the narratives of art history. We look forward to the challenging but necessary work ahead.

Main Image :SFMOMA; photo: © Henrik Kam, courtesy SFMOMA

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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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