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.