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National Museum Of American Jewish History Lays Off Nearly One-Quarter Of Its Staff

Jun 13, 2017

(ED HILLE / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)The National Museum of American Jewish History officially opened to the public Nov. 14, 2010 with a dedication ceremony on Independence Mall and a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

After running a string of annual deficits, the National Museum of American Jewish History has embarked on a major retrenchment, including layoffs, museum officials said this week.

The institution, which opened a $150 million building on Independence Mall in 2010, laid off 12 staff members outright on Friday. Other positions, now empty, will not be filled; others will be made part-time or consolidated. All told, 18 of the museum’s 50 full-time staff positions will be eliminated.

This fiscal year, ending June 30, the museum is running about a $1.8 million deficit; expenditures will be about $10.6 million.

“We’ve got a gap, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” said Ivy Barsky, the museum’s chief executive and director.

Salaries have been frozen, she said, and top managers will be taking what Barsky called small pay cuts. In her own case, Barsky has accepted what she characterized as a “modest, voluntary” cut of $25,000 to her $324,000 salary.

The museum will be closing Tuesdays beginning in July, she said; it is already closed Mondays. The café will close, and its staff will be refocused on the museum store, web sales, and facility rentals. (In the future, the museum will be open Tuesdays during special exhibitions.)

Annual attendance, which had been projected at 250,000 when the museum opened its 25,000 square feet of exhibition space in 2010, had declined to about 126,000 in 2012. Barsky said it is now about 100,000.

Museum membership in the first year stood at 18,000; by 2012 it had dropped to 12,000. It is now 6,000. Barsky said the retention rate at that reduced level is about 90 percent to 95 percent, which she characterized as “the strongest retention rate you can imagine.” About 60 percent of the members are from outside the region, she said.