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Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art Lays Off 36 Staffers, Slashes Budget By 25 Percent

On Wednesday, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art announced budget cuts and layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Today's decision comes after analyzing, trying to fundraise," CEO and director Julián Zugazagoitia said, "and also seeing that this pandemic is going to be lasting for many, many months to come."

Plans call for reducing the museum's budget by 25 percent, to about $26 million, and downsizing staff by 15 percent, or 36 positions.

“Any decision to reduce the size of the staff must be the last resort,” Richard C. Green, chairman of the Nelson-Atkins Board of Trustees, said in a news release. “These steps are being taken to ensure the museum’s long-term sustainability.”

According to Zugazagoitia, more details about staff layoffs will be released in the next few weeks or months.

"We are going to reorganize some divisions," he said. "We're going to try to be more nimble and more cohesive."

The museum closed to the public for six months from March 14 to September 12, and, according to officials, lost revenue “from event rentals, fundraisers, ticketing, the Rozzelle Court Restaurant, parking fees, and sale of merchandise.”

Annual attendance at the Nelson-Atkins is usually around 500,000, but that's been “dramatically lower” since reopening. Due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, the museum has also canceled traveling exhibitions, classes, and public programs and festivals — features that boosted fundraising and generated income.

"Just to put things in perspective, in March of this year, all of our indicators were ahead of our goals by more than 5%," Zugazagoitia said. "I'm thinking of our fiscal year terms, but we were going to have the best year in our history."

He added, "And COVID, like a wall, hit all of us and stopped us in our tracks. So this is us taking stock."

The Nelson-Atkins was one of the arts organizations around the country to receive a small business loan through the Payroll Protection Program, which helped cover the costs of salaries and benefits. The museum continues to receive private donations and is working with longtime donors to reallocate restricted funds. But those funds, according to officials, were still not enough to make up for the shortfall in revenue.

"The long-term sustainability of the museum, what the museum does, our doors being open to date is really important," Zugazagoitia said. "And also the museum as a place where people can enjoy that personal connection with art — even under the conditions in which we need to do it with wearing a mask and then socially distanced."

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Laura Spencer caught the radio bug more than a decade ago when she was asked to read a newscast on the air on her first day volunteering for KOOP, the community radio station in Austin, Texas.