Brian Ferriso

Portland Art Museum sets reopening

The museum, shut since March 14, will begin a phased reopening in July. Beset by lost income, it also announces a round of layoffs.

The Portland Art Museum, shuttered since March 14 because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, is making plans to reopen in the second week of July. The reopening will be phased, with limits on the number of visitors allowed inside the building at any one time, and many details are still being worked out. “We’ll have more information in coming weeks, but we know museum operations and visitor numbers will need to be smaller at first due to precautions and restrictions for community health, including ongoing gathering restrictions that may prevent Northwest Film Center programs and museum event rentals from reopening for some time to come,” museum spokesperson Ian Gillingham said in an email Thursday afternoon.

Bad news arrived with the good: Effective July 1, the museum will lay off 51 full-time and 72 part-time workers. The cuts will reduce staffing costs for the cash-strapped museum by roughly one-third, and the museum hopes many of the layoffs will be temporary, Gillingham said.

“These layoffs are directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and in no way reflect upon the dedication and talent of those who are affected,” museum Director Brian Ferriso wrote in a letter to staff that was sent Thursday. “I very much value and appreciate every member of the staff, your patience and your continued dedication to this institution.”

The museum had refrained from fully laying off staff earlier in the shutdown by using staff leaves, federal pandemic relief, and private emergency support that kept workers on the books through June. That effort has now ended.

“We can begin to rehire some of the laid-off staff as business needs allow, and as funding is available,” Ferriso continued. “We have been and will continue to be committed to advancing racial equity in our staffing and programming. I am deeply sorry to those impacted by this, and remain hopeful that we will be able to bring many people back as the crisis subsides and restrictions are lifted.”

Robert Colescott, “Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Upside Down Jesus and the Politics of Survival,” 1987, acrylic on canvas. Portland Art Museum purchase: Robert Hale Ellis Jr. Fund for the Blanche Eloise Day Ellis and Robert Hale Ellis Memorial Collection. © 1987 Robert Colescott. A Colescott retrospective will be on view when the museum reopens in July.

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A sharp shutdown at the museum

The Portland Art Museum puts 80 percent of its staff on unpaid leave as it and the cultural world face the economic upshot of the pandemic

The Portland Art Museum announced details Friday of an expansive staff cutback, bringing hard numbers to the painful economic plight that even large cultural organizations are facing because of the global coronavirus pandemic. The museum, including its allied Northwest Film Center, has put 80 percent of its staff on unpaid leave effective April 16, a cutback that affects 158 of 213 employees. Because many are part-time or occasional staffers, the cuts amount on the books to 60 percent of FTE, or full time equivalent, jobs.

Being placed on unpaid leave rather than being laid off allows workers to draw on their unused sick and vacation time so they can keep at least some cash flow. Health and dental benefits also will be covered through June. The museum and film center shut down on March 15 and since then “have incurred $1 million per month in payroll and other expenses, without offsetting revenue from admissions, rental event business, retail operations, and other channels,” the museum said in a press release. Museum Director Brian Ferriso elaborated in an email message to museum staff: “This is not sustainable, and we are projecting to end the fiscal year with a deficit of $4 million. The leader of the American Alliance of Museums has suggested that one-third of all museums may not reopen if this crisis continues. We must not let our Museum and Film Center join the list of casualties.”

The museum entrance, with a sign of the times. Photo courtesy Portland Art Museum.

The drastic cutbacks are emblematic of what’s happening in museums, theaters, concert halls, opera houses, and other major cultural centers around the globe. In Portland, the Oregon Symphony has laid off all of its musicians, Portland Opera has canceled the remainder of its season, the White Bird dance series has canceled several high-profile performances and is facing extreme financial hardship, and theater and dance companies from the biggest to the smallest have gone idle and are bleeding money. Regional museums and cultural centers in towns around the state have shut their doors. In southern Oregon, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which has a $44 million annual budget, has shut down until September, losing all of it high season and the income that goes with it. As the economy crumbles – more than 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past four weeks, bringing the nation’s official unemployment rate to 13 percent and its actual rate, including freelance and contract workers, many homeless people, and workers who have dropped out of the job market, even higher – the nation’s cultural infrastructure crumbles with it.

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Portland Art Museum facing big layoffs

With income severely cut back by a closure forced by coronavirus concerns, Oregon's largest art museum will make deep staff cuts next week

LAYOFFS ARE COMING SOON TO THE PORTLAND ART MUSEUM, Director Brian Ferriso informed the staff in a memo on Friday. The museum is closed for the foreseeable future because of the pandemic, and income has dropped sharply. What this means for the $100 million capital campaign to build the Rothko Pavilion between the museum’s two main buildings is not yet clear. The museum expects to make a more complete announcement next week.

The museum’s Belluschi Building. Photo courtesy Portland Art Museum

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Here is Ferriso’s Friday memo:

Dear Museum and (Northwest Film Center) staff,

I hope this email finds you safe and adjusting to being at home. I know this is a difficult and uncertain time, and I want to continue providing you updates about our status and future plans.

As I have shared previously, maintaining staff and operations, even during this closure, costs about $1 million a month. This situation is not sustainable beyond April 15, and our cash flow cannot support it.

Today, it is becoming more evident that all pathways forward include deep staff reductions. To that end, we are working to identify direct assistance and other support tools that may be available for staff and families. This information changes daily based on new legislation and other developments in the state and federal pandemic response, but we expect to have clarity around those questions sometime next week and are consulting with outside counsel to ensure that we are doing it right.

We will be in touch individually with those of you whose jobs are affected, and we will provide information about next steps and resources.

Today’s news is difficult to share, and I know it is difficult news to receive. Thank you for your patience and trust as we work to protect the future of the Museum and Film Center. We will have more to share next week.

Sincerely,

Brian

In the Frame: Eleven Men

In photographic portraits, K.B. Dixon captures the essence in black and white of eleven people who've helped shape Portland's creative soul

Essay and photographs by K.B. DIXON

A good picture tells a story, and nothing tells a story better—more eloquently, more efficiently—than the human face. The story these eleven faces tell, in part, is Portland’s. These are talented and dedicated people who have contributed in significant ways to the character and culture of this city, people whose legacies are destined to be part of our cultural history.

Why eleven? Why not? It is the atomic number of sodium, the number of players on a football team, the number of thumb keys on a bassoon. I am a retentive sort with a bias in favor of symmetry who prefers numbers that divide evenly by two. I thought I would challenge myself. If the helping professions are to be believed, it is a way for one to grow.

With each portrait it has been my hope to produce first a decent photograph—a truthful record, one that honors the unique strength of the medium; but I have also sought to produce a photograph that is more than just a simple statement of fact, one that preserves for myself and others a brief glimpse of the being behind the image, one that presents a feeling as well as a form.

Soon I hope to be doing portraits of eleven Portland women. I have written to the President & CEO of one of our major cultural institutions, but she has not gotten back to me. Ms X, if you’re listening…. The portraits will be black & white, casual, available light, and done, ideally, in your office or work space. (My style is pretty straightforward as you can see—a nondenominational mix of street, fine art, and documentary photography.) Time, I know, is always an issue so I try to keep the intrusion to a minimum—30 minutes or so. Please let me know if you would be interested. We could set up a shoot at your convenience.

 


 

Will Vinton

Oscar-winning filmmaker. Vinton was a pioneer in stop-action animation. He is the head of Vinton Entertainment.

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