Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Museo del Barrio Layoffs: More Financial Trouble at New York Museums

The financially ailing and rudderless El Museo del Barrio has laid off its press officer along with three others, is cutting vendor expenses, and is putting on fewer shows because of a financial crisis.

It confirmed the moves only today after refusing to respond to this reporter’s telephoning yesterday.

The information was presented by Susan Delvalle,  director of external affairs and development, in a conference call that included Georgina Nichols, interim museum director and director of finance and administration.

Delvalle declined to state which positions had gotten the ax beyond its communications officer, Ines Aslan,  but said that they included both full-time and part-time employees. 

The layoffs, she added, are just one of “many steps” being taken to slash costs, including a reduction in summer programming for adults, lengthening exhibition time – i.e. putting on fewer shows -- and renegotiating or not renewing vendor contracts.

She said that no further layoffs were envisioned.  The total cost reductions are reportedly in excess of $1 million.

El Museo del Barrio, which has a history of financial troubles – its funding was frozen by the city in the 1980s because of fiscal mismanagement -- has been looking for a director for more than a year to replace Julian Zugazagoitia, who announced in March 2010 that he was leaving and then decamped to the Nelson-Atkins later that year.   

Asked whether the belt-tightening would make the search for someone to take the helm any more difficult, Nichols said, “I don’t believe so,” adding that “every” museum looking for a director was facing the same problem.

One might question her confidence after a look at El Museo’s most recent tax filing, which is for its fiscal year 2010.  It shows an endowment of only $1.8 million, which isn’t going to throw off much income to use for operating expenses. 

And of its $8 million in total assets, $4 million represents promised grants and contributions – i.e. receivables, not money in hand.  Compare that to its expenses for fiscal 2010 – they were $8.3 million.

The New York Times just last week favorably reviewed the museum’s most recent show.  El Museo is still talked about for its stunning and remarkable 2005 exhibition of large-format photographs of pioneering Mexican news photographer Agustin Victor Casasola.

Copyright 2011 Laura Gilbert