The Science Museum of Minnesota is temporarily laying off 87 percent of its employees and shifting to online-only programming due to the covid-19 outbreak. The Children’s Museum also announced a furloughing of 75 percent of employees without pay, lasting until at least June. Job losses between the two total roughly 600.
The Science Museum had previously enacted a 12-week closure starting March 13, with the Children’s Museum following on March 14, in response to advice from Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Closing was the right decision for the health and safety of our employees, volunteers, and visitors, but it is creating a financial hardship during our busiest time of the year,” Science Museum CEO Alison Brown said in a press release. “Temporarily laying off employees was a tough decision. It is unfortunately necessary as we consider the long-term viability of the museum.”
The Science Museum layoffs, which affect 450 of about 500 total jobs, will go into effect on April 2. The museum has been paying employees their wage rate since March 13 and will continue to pay medical benefits through April 30. The remaining employees will continue to create and provide online content and provide essential functions such as security and maintenance.
The Children’s Museum is in a similar predicament. It will retain only about 30 staff members out of 150, with salary reductions, and continue to work on maintenance, fundraising, and loan applications.
Throughout the year, the Science Museum works with schools across 87 counties in Minnesota for outreach programs and fieldtrips. It will now also focus on delivering those educational experiences online as well, for however long the pandemic lasts.
“Accurate and relevant scientific information is needed in our society now more than ever,” Brown said. “The Science Museum plays a leading role in engaging our community in science, which is so important in situations that require evidence-based decisions, like this pandemic. We are working quickly to make our STEM resources and learning programs available online and widely accessible.”
Both museums are hopeful that people continue to donate to their institutions.
“This is a challenging time for everyone, and we are doing everything we can to protect this cultural resource for Minnesotans,” Brown said.
Most other museums across the Twin Cities—including the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Walker Art Center, The Bakken Museum, Weisman Art Museum, and The Museum of Russian Art—are also closed during this time. Many are releasing or working towards releasing increased online content.
Numerous museums across the Twin Cities are also facing staffing changes and the need increased online content amid their closures:
American Swedish Institute has been forced to lay off part-time staff, including some language and workshop instructors, café staff, and those with front desk visitor services and facilities positions. The museum is, however, offering a host of online content, including Swedish and Finnish language classes via Zoom (coming soon), videos and photos of new installations, and more. asimn.org
The Bakken Museum is reporting no expected layoffs or furloughs at this time—"With major renovations taking place in the first half of 2020, the museum had budgeted for a loss of attendance and program revenue,” says Laura Whittet, associate director of communications at The Bakken. “Museum staff and board leadership feel confident that they can weather the current financial crisis.”—but will continue to develop online content. “Our team is currently developing digital STEM content for use by parents and educators,” Whittet says. “Online programming for families will offer challenges and experiments with everyday household objects, and educators will be able to access our most popular science theatre and assembly shows to enhance their distance learning curriculum. We hope to have resources available late next week and will continue releasing content.” thebakken.org
The Museum of Russian Art, which previously had 10 employees, was forced to furlough all but two staff members effective this Friday, says Mark Meister, the museum’s president and executive director. Meister and the facilities manager will continue to work, but only part-time. “We had planned this course of action before the governor’s shelter-in-place order,” he says. The museum currently offers six virtual exhibitions on its website and will continue posting on its social media channels. tmora.org
Walker Art Center’s assistant director of public relations, Rachel Joyce, says the museum “has committed to paying all staff, including part-time staff and contractors, through May.” They also have programming, exhibitions, and resources available online, including an online presentation of short films called Indigenous Lens: Our Reality, an online lecture by artist Ruben Pater, and downloadable coloring pages by Anishinabe artist Frank Big Bear. walkerart.org
Weisman Art Museum has not had any layoffs or furloughs, says the museum’s director of marketing and communications Susannah Schouweiler. “Staff are all working remotely from home, and have been for the last week and a half, as have most workers in most offices which are part of the University of Minnesota system,” she says. They’re also working on rolling out digital content, with a plan for taking the spring’s scheduled live programs online via streamed conversations, virtual tours of exhibitions, social media, and more. They also have a kids’ educational kit available for download. wam.umn.edu