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Entertainment & Arts

Hammer Museum lays off 150 student employees. Are more coronavirus job losses coming?

The Hammer Museum in Westwood says it will probably not reopen to the public before mid-July.
The Hammer Museum in Westwood says it will probably not reopen to the public before mid-July.
(Los Angeles Times)

In what could be the first wave of mass layoffs at arts institutions closed by the coronavirus outbreak, the UCLA Hammer Museum on Tuesday laid off 150 part-time student employees, mostly front-line workers who staff the reception desk, box office and galleries.

The employees will be paid through April 10, the museum said. The move came on the same day the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. announced layoffs of 97 part-time employees.

The museum said it likely will not reopen to the public before mid-July, and UCLA classes will not be held on campus next quarter. “We hope that many of our part-time students will return to the Hammer later this summer,” a museum representative said by email.

Just last week, The Times surveyed 11 institutions that had announced temporary closures. The Times asked about the fate of visitor services associates, box office attendants and other part-time and hourly employees who would be losing shift work. All but one of the museums said they would pay part-time and hourly employees through the end of March or mid-April.

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Organizers of the 74th Ojai Music Festival, scheduled for June, pull the plug. They cite travel uncertainty and the safety of artists and audiences.

A representative for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art said this week LACMA is still planning to pay the museum’s hourly and part-time staff through the closure period. The Broad will be paying employees who can’t work remotely through at least April 8. The museum, a representative said, is “working on further plans.”

“I think it’s something no museum can, in good conscience, avoid thinking about right now,” USC Fisher Museum of Art Director Selma Holo said of layoffs. “Museums, depending on how reliable their funding is, have to address it.”

The Hammer is only partially funded by UCLA, which provides about 15% of the museum’s annual budget. The majority comes from members, donors and an endowment.

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For the Craft Contemporary museum, being smaller has advantages, Executive Director Suzanne Isken said.

“Luckily for us, we don’t have large numbers of part-time staff, so we’re not in the same position where the nut is so huge,” Isken said. “[Mayor] Garcetti has asked us to stay closed until April 19, so that’s the plan right now. But we’ll be taking it up with the board this week: How do we weather the storm? I can say staff is certainly not the first cut we’ll make.”

Admission typically accounts for a small percentage of a museum’s annual revenue. But the coronavirus crisis and volatile stock market affect other revenue streams, as touring exhibitions get canceled, events get postponed and philanthropists get nervous about giving.

“After weathering the storm,” Isken added, “we’re concerned about what will the giving be going forward. One of my trustees said they now have COVID-19 priorities and their resources are going other places.”

The Japanese American National Museum in L.A. said it was having daily conversations about programming plans and possible reopening dates.

Layoffs are “the elephant in the room,” a museum representative said. “But we haven’t actually talked about it yet. We’re hoping not to.”


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