Art museum cuts staff, exhibitions, salaries, may raise fees

Facing a dramatic downturn in its endowment and waning city support, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is cutting staff, delaying exhibitions, curtailing programs, trimming salaries and — subject to city approval — increasing admission fees.

The cuts will bring the museum’s operating budget down by about $1.7 million to $52 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and, the museum hopes, will stave off a deficit the following year forecast as high as $5 million.

The museum will eliminate 30 positions — about seven percent of the staff — in all areas, though no curators are being let go. Of those 30 jobs, 16 are layoffs of current personnel, with the remaining positions lost by not filling vacancies.

Senior staff will take salary cuts of between five and 10 percent, said interim CEO Gail M. Harrity yesterday.

Painful as the reductions are, they might not be the last. “If endowment keeps being reduced in value there are going to be further steps taken. We would anticipate further reductions in personnel and operating,” said chairman H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest.

The museum is highly dependent on its endowment, underwriting about 25 percent of operating costs each year with interest and income generated by that chunk of money. But along with markets generally, the Art Museum’s endowment has taken a big hit. At its high in July, the endowment’s market value was $346 million, the largest of any local arts group; as of Dec. 1 it had fallen to $256 million. “And it has been further reduced since,” said Lenfest.

City funding has fallen in tandem with reductions for other city and quasi-city agencies. This year the museum will receive $2.4 million from the city, down from $3 million, and is facing the prospect of a further reduction next year.

The museum anticipates balancing its budget next year with the help of an increase in admission after July, and the postponement of an exhibition, The Crown of Aragón: The Art of Barcelona, Mallorca, Valencia and Zaragoza,” previously slated for spring of 2010.

“It’s fair to say that the curatorial staff is looking at how to best focus on the museum’s rich and deep collection,” rather than paying fees for travelling shows, Harrity said.