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Entertainment & Arts

Many L.A. museums are paying hourly employees during coronavirus closures, for now

The temporarily closed J. Paul Getty Museum said it was committed to paying its part-time and hourly employees for “as long as this goes on.”
The temporarily closed J. Paul Getty Museum said that, during the coronavirus outbreak, it was committed to paying its part-time and hourly employees for “as long as this goes on.”
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The coronavirus has closed all 21 of the major California museums The Times has been tracking during the crisis, raising the question of what happens to all those box office attendants, visitor services associates and other part-time and hourly employees who risk losing their pay when they lose their shifts?

The Times surveyed 11 Los Angeles institutions including the Getty, the Broad, the Hammer, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as museums in New York and San Francisco. All but one museum said they had not laid off part-time or hourly staff and will pay those employees through the end of March.

The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, which announced its temporary closure Friday, laid off its part-time tour guides and two full-time ticket booth attendants but gave those employees two weeks’ pay. The museum said it plans to re-evaluate the situation after March 31 and hopes to bring back employees when the museum can reopen.

Nearly every museum surveyed by The Times said the coronavirus news was moving too fast for them to announce plans for after April 1.

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“We’re all thinking about that. This is my only job,” said Judy Leroy, one of MOCA’s 59 part-time gallery attendants. “I was really pleased they decided to pay us, because the last day we worked, Thursday, we weren’t sure. I was talking to friends at the Getty and Broad and I heard they’d be paying their part-time employees. I was surprised how transparent they were being, early on, while we were still unsure. But on Friday, MOCA sent out an email saying starting that day, we’d be paid for the shifts we were already scheduled for.”

Eli Petzold, a former visitor service associate at the permanently closed Marciano Art Foundation, said he has been talking with museum workers. “No one’s taking anything as a given, and it’s really scary,” he said. “People are thinking: ‘I might not have a job at the end of this.’ But it’s too early to know.”

The Getty Museum, which operates at the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, said it’s committed to paying all its part-time and hourly employees “as long as this goes on,” a representative said. The J. Paul Getty Trust — which operates the museum, the Getty Foundation as well as the Getty Conservation and Research institutes — has an endowment that puts it in the top 10% of national trusts and foundations. It’s giving all part-time and hourly employees an additional three weeks of paid sick leave in response to the pandemic.

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“We’re fully prepared to be closed through May,” a museum representative said. “And if we can re-open sooner, that’s fabulous, but we’re preparing for a longer scenario.”

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Most of the Hammer Museum’s part-time and hourly employees — about 100 staff who work the reception desk, oversee galleries, run the theater box office — are UCLA students who will be paid through mid-April, the museum said.

“We’re looking for opportunities to find other work that they might be able to help us with during the closure,” a museum representative said. “These are all kids hungry for experience, and they want to work and develop skill sets and grow in their careers.”

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which is paying part-time and hourly staff through March, is “trying to be creative about how some part-time staff might help out on projects in other departments of the [museum] and the La Brea Tar Pits, including in research and collections, but this plan is in formation,” a representative said.

Even smaller institutions such as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and the Craft Contemporary museum have decided to pay part-time and hourly staffers through at least the end of the month. The Japanese American National Museum is taking the same approach, redeploying some employees who normally interact with the public to take on tasks such as data entry, social media and membership renewal mailings normally handled by volunteers on site.

When the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced last week that it was closing temporarily, it said it would pay all full-time and hourly staff “through the pay period,” a museum representative said. The museum has since updated that policy.

“As is appropriate, we are managing this fast-moving crisis on an incremental basis,” a representative said by email Monday. “Today, we have updated that policy to say the Met will continue to be closed until April 3, and we will continue to pay all staff during that time.”

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The Guggenheim Museum in New York said via email only that it was “supporting salaried and hourly employees during this period; we are in a fluid and unprecedented situation and continue to assess circumstances based on available information. The safety and well being of our employees is of utmost priority.”

On Monday in San Francisco, where Mayor London Breed ordered residents to stay home as of midnight Monday, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art said it was committed to paying part-time hourly employees through March.

“I think the future is really uncertain for so many at this time,” MOCA part-timer Leroy said. “I’m just trying to be as optimistic as possible.”

Updates:
1:38 PM, Mar. 17, 2020: This article, originally published at 8:51 a.m. Tuesday, has been updated to reflect the full temporary closure of the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens starting Wednesday.

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