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Tenement Museum on Lower East Side lays off 76 staff members

The Tenement Museum's exterior. (Courtesy of Tenement Museum)

Since the opening date of indoor cultural institutions remains up in the air, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum laid off 76 part-time educators today, according to a statement released on Thursday morning. 

Museum leadership placed all of the educators being let go on furlough after the museum closed on March 13 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic with the hopes of bringing them back into the building in a matter of months. But given that Phase 4 of New York state’s reopening plan was altered to exclude large indoor cultural institutions like museums, Tenement Museum leadership accepted that the pandemic is “not abating” and that the public would not be able to return to the building any time soon. 

“Our educators make our programs come to life,” said Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel.”They are an important part of the Museum’s success. We had hoped to avoid this drastic step.” During the museum’s initial closure, leadership laid off 13 full-time staff and placed 40 full-time staff on furlough in addition to the 76 part-time staff now being laid off, and placed 8 members of senior management on partial furloughs. Vogel also took a 99% salary reduction, according to the press release. Currently, museum leadership is mulling over additional salary reductions for the remaining senior staff. 

The museum was able to bring back the furloughed 40 full-time staffers after receiving a paycheck protection program loan form the CARES Act given the loss of revenue from ticket sales. Leadership plans to use the fund to keep those full-time staffers on “for as long as possible.” But leadership predicts that the museums prolonged closure will result in a 50% budget reduction for next year.  

New Yorkers interested in taking advantage of the Tenement Museum tours can still do so virtually. 

“For the past several months we have focused on pivoting our visitor model to digital platforms, developing alternative revenue streams, and growing philanthropy with the goal of ensuring the institution’s long-term survival and retaining as many full-time staff members as possible after the PPP period ends on September 20,” wrote Vogel.

In the coming months, the Museum plans to continue budget discipline to ensure financial strength through what it expects to be a drawn-out period of living with the pandemic; the institution remains hopeful it can reopen stronger when the pandemic loosens its grip.

The museum has hosted tours of historic tenement building at 97 and 103 Orchard and the surrounding neighborhood since 1988 in order to enhance New Yorkers and tourists’ appreciation of role immigrants play in shaping American identity. Every year the museum welcomes more than 278,000 visitors including 55,000 students. ” The Museum now aims to use every medium at its disposal to dramatically increase the impact of its programming—reaching millions not thousands— with its message of how immigrants built and continue to build America,” according to a statement. 

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