When the economic house of cards started falling last year, I wondered how long it would take for museums to start cutting staff and programing. We all know the answer to that one by now . But I also wondered if the two behemoths of the museum world might be able to resist. In any discussion of museum endowments, the Getty Trust in L.A. and the Metropolitan Museum in New York are in a class by themselves. (I’ll leave the Smithsonian out of the equation because it doesn’t rely on endowment — it gets 70% of its billion dollar annual budget from the federal government.) Before the crash, the Getty was sitting on almost six billion and the Met on close to three. After them, no other museum endowment crosses the billion dollar mark, though several — MOMA, Houston, Cleveland — cluster in the mid-to-high seven hundreds.
Now we know the answer on the big places too. Last week the Met, which may have seen an $800 million nosedive in its endowment since last summer, announced that it will probably cut its workforce by 10% before this summer. That would be about 250 jobs, though 74 of them are in the Met’s merchandising operation, which had been limping along for a while and doesn’t directly impact programing.
This morning the other shoe dropped. As early as January James Wood, the Getty Trust President, had acknowledged that the Getty’s endowment had dropped by 25% since last June — that would be about $1.5 billion. In today’s L.A. Times he says that’s going to mean a whopping 25% reduction in operating budget for the coming year. Unless I missed something, that has to be the biggest cut that anybody has announced so far, bigger even than the 20% staff cut and roughly 18% budget cut announced by the truly struggling Detroit Institute of the Arts last month.