April 6, 2010

Johnson Museum Staff Relieved By Small Cuts

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While some members of the Theater, Film and Dance Department have accused the University of under-privileging the arts, staffers at the Herbert Johnson Museum of Art say that cuts to the museum have been fair and in-line with those for other departments.

Informed Tuesday by Day Hall administration that “University support” would be cut by a “better … than expected” 2.5 percent, the Johnson Museum’s Deputy Director for Administration and Finance Peter Gould said that although the museum has “stretched the rubber band pretty tight,” it has “got to soldier on … Everybody’s taken on an additional responsibility.”

“We were hit hard, but so was everyone else … I have seen absolutely no sign of bias [against the arts],” the Johnson’s Director Franklin Robinson said. “[Cornell] is a very good environment for the arts.”

Associate Curator Andrew Weislogel agreed, saying that there was “no animosity” between the museum and the University. “We feel fully integrated with the teaching of humanities and sciences here,” Weislogel said.

Robinson said that although the 2.5 percent cut only amounted to $4,000 of lost income, the museum also has to cope with the added costs of University-mandated salary raises — an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 — and lost revenue from a University-wide drop of endowment payouts — dropping an estimated $100,000 each — as well as a projected drop of $10,000 in earned income, such as rental spaces. The museum, Robinson said, is thus bracing for a total of $160,000 to $170,000 in expenses and lost income.

Nonetheless, Robinson said the fiscal outlook of the museum was “looking very, very good.”

“It’s [been] a very good day … we’re all very relieved at the museum,” he said.

One Johnson Museum staffer who requested anonymity, however, disputed Robinson’s characterization of the cuts.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to do things as … before, that’s pretty obvious,” the staffer continued. “You can only stretch your money so far.”

The staffer added that “despite the fear that [it] would be more,” the 2.5 percent cut was still a “huge amount.” Still, the staffer said the budget would be “manageable,” if not ideal.

The Johnson Museum has already been forced this year to do more with less.

In order to make due with last year’s steeper drop in University and endowment support, the Johnson Museum had to eliminate four staff positions at the beginning of the year, according to Gould.

“That wasn’t easy,” said Robinson, who added that everyone else has “had to pick up the slack [in their absence].”

The Johnson Museum was also forced to make significant changes to their exhibition budget — which was cut by “around 50 percent,” according to Chief Curator Ellen Avril.

It has adapted by putting on exhibits with the “32,000 works of art” in the museum’s “permanent collection,” a move that has helped the museum cut down on costs, according to Robinson.

Avril agreed that the museum was “fortunate” to have “a wonderful and very deep” permanent collection to replace the Museum’s rental of temporary collections.

But the anonymous staffer previously quoted worried that drawing extensively from the permanent collection would hurt the museum’s ability to “still represent what’s going on in contemporary art.”

The museum hopes to continue to find new ways to make up for this shortfall. Last year, four staff members also decided to give back 10 percent of their salaries to the museum.

Robinson called this action an “incredible demonstration of [the staffers’] dedication and devotion … [it] brings tears to my eyes.”

Avril, one of the four to donate a part of her salary, said she did so because she “believe[s] in the mission of the museum [and] to prevent us from losing any more staff.”

“When times got tough, people really stepped up and [were] willing to sacrifice,” Avril said. “If we had wanted careers [that were] more financially lucrative, we wouldn’t have picked museum work,” she said.

The museum also got a somewhat unexpected boost of revenue from outside donors, which Robinson and Gould said have fill the gap. “The loyalty of these alumni [has been] simply amazing,” Robinson said.

Although the administration’s cut of 2.5 percent from University support was less than expected, the museum — like the rest of Cornell — will have to contend with a 14 percent drop of “Endowment support,” on the heels of a 15 percent drop of Endowment support last year, according to Gould.

Robinson said that although he has “never seen a crisis as bad as this one … in 42 years,” the Museum has fared well.

“This year [we] had a full schedule of exhibitions and publications and education events,” Robinson said. The museum had also seen “90,000 visitors [in the] last couple months,” which Robinson said was “about standard.”

Gould chimed in that all this occurred amidst a “great new building being built.” “Two years ago, [we] had 90,000 visitors in a town of 200,000 people … this museum is going to keep doing its job.”

“We were certainly cut back … but [we] don’t feel unusually targeted,” Ellen Avril said. “There are units all over the University being asked to make sacrifices. [It is] just the nature of [the economic crisis].”

Original Author: Jeff Stein