Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good Governance, Bad Governance.

Finally, Museum Leadership You Can Believe In!

The High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.

In not-so-stunning, but all-too-real announcements, two museums are implementing interim cost-cutting provisions in an effort to curtail the severity of their recent recession-driven endowment losses. The High Museum in Atlanta and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore have announced staff reductions, pay cuts, as well as furloughs.

The High Museum will cut their staff levels by 7%. Furthermore, the High's director, Michael Shapiro, will accept a pay cut of 7%, while other director-level employees will see their pay decrease by 6%. The rest of the staff will take a 5% pay cut. Similarly, the Walters will cut seven members of its staff and impose a salary and limited hiring freeze, in addition to staff furloughs. Museum director Gary Vikan will take one month of unpaid leave just before the museum's fiscal year ends on June 30th, in an effort to further reduce costs.

Taking these kinds of actions are inevitable given the grave circumstances of the current economic downturn. I believe that museums should, as a rule, continually strive to reduce wasteful spending when possible. Indeed, streamlining your operations a bit to make sure that you don't have five people doing the same exact thing is a smart move. But trimming waste, especially in tough economic times, is also a two-way street as clearly evidenced by the strong leadership at the High and Walters. Their plan outlines the sobering reality of the times, but also makes sure that the staff is cognizant that everyone is affected by the changes, even the upper echelons. This kind of strategy does wonders for employee morale and serves as a great model for other museums.

Conversely, poor and misguided leadership believes that they should somehow be completely immune to the budget cutting process altogether. If you want to see a good example of unwavering institutional waste at its best, please click here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The J. Paul Getty (Mis)Trust?

MoCA Mobilization Bug Has Apparently Caught On at the Getty

There's no doubt that times have been tough at art institutions throughout the country. Everyone is scrambling to hold on to every penny in order to continue with their exhibitions and programing schedules in order to avoid sinking into a financial abyss.

It's been almost a year since I left the Getty Trust under bitter sweet circumstances. Sweet, due to the talented and mission-driven colleagues who had a deep sense of commitment and obligation toward making the Getty a top-notch arts institution. Bitter, due to the abrasive, selfish and short-sided leadership of a selected few at the top of the food chain who share similar character traits with those "financial wizards" who brought Wall Street to its knees last November.

I was planning on writing an open letter to the Getty's CEO and President, James N. Wood, addressing some concerns that I had about the Getty's future, but apparently someone beat me to the punch. And did a WAY better job at it! Under the nom de plume, Silence Dogetty, some person(s) have taken brave and bold steps in attempting to right that which is obviously wrong at the Getty. Read the post here. Join the Facebook page here.

Without re-hashing what was posted on Silence Dogetty's blog, the biggest issue I had with Mr. Wood was the compensation aspect. In this turbulent economic climate, for the CEO of a nonprofit to propose a budget cut of 20-25% and not even think of adjusting his own $728,000 yearly salary is, in my opinion, absolutely preposterous and disgraceful to say the least. Moreover, the fact that The Trust subsidises his living accommodation expenses to the tune of a $20,000 per month housing allowance, indicates that there is a sever governance flaw that was clearly overlooked post-Munitz . Thank goodness for the Internet and the empowerment it gives regular individuals to organize!