Museum of Latin American Art

A view of the galleries at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. The museum, which was founded in 1996, has recently announced layoffs and budget reductions. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

In a move that signals serious financial trouble, the Museum of Latin American Art said it has recently laid off its chief curator and slashed its operating budget by nearly 15%.

The museum, which is based in Long Beach, said that the culprit was a downturn in financial support from individual donors in recent years.

Stuart Ashman, the museum's president and chief executive officer, said in an interview that the museum laid off its chief curator, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, on Monday. The museum now has two full-time curators.

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In total, MoLAA has eliminated 4-1/2 full-time positions while also moving certain people to lower-level positions to avoid further layoffs.

The museum said it has cut $600,000 in expenses, bringing its annual operating budget to just under $3.5 million.

Ashman said the cuts were necessary following the death in 2009 of the museum's founder, Dr. Robert Gumbiner, who donated significantly to the museum. 

"He would write a check at the end of the year to cover whatever shortfall there was," said Ashman. "He's no longer here. But the culture of the museum was operating like he was." 

Ashman said that in recent years, the museum has seen declines in membership and attendance, as well as a reduction in individual giving.

MoLAA was founded in 1996 and bills itself as the only institution of its kind "exclusively dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American art." Ashman joined the museum in 2011 having previously worked as New Mexico's state secretary of cultural affairs.

Despite the recent cuts, Ashman said the museum isn't in danger of ceasing operations. He said the foundation established by the Gumbiner family has provided for an annual gift. In 2009, the museum announced that it has received a $25-million endowment from the Gumbiner estate.

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