Spertus president confirms layoffs
The Spertus Museum has laid off half its employees, Dr. Hal M. Lewis, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies’ new president and CEO, confirms. Yesterday, I blogged about my phone conversation with Spertus spokeswoman Susan Baum, who acknowledged that—as of September—the museum will only be open alternate Sundays and one Thursday evening each month.
Lewis, whom I also reached by phone, acknowledges that the museum reduced its staff “from six full-time equivalents to three full-time equivalents.” A statement the Spertus released yesterday indicates that museum director Rhoda Rosen remains, but Lewis would not tell me who else kept their jobs, telling me, “We’re not talking about titles; we’re talking about functions. Our staff is being redeployed throughout the Institute to accomplish a number of functions.” He emphasizes that the museum’s woes are part of problems affecting the entire Spertus Institute, which also encompasses Spertus College and the Asher Library.
Lewis blames the Spertus Institute’s decreases in private donations and endowment income. (The latter fell between 16 and 22 percent this year, he says.) The Institute as a whole reduced its staff by 26 percent, he explains, “so across the board, there have been changes. In each of the areas of the Institute, we curtailed hours so that we did not have to go the route that other museums have gone. We haven’t closed the museum; we don’t intend to close the museum. We haven’t sold collections; we don’t intend to sell collections.” (Due to legal and professional constraints, the museum probably couldn’t sell any objects from its collection to raise operating funds, but I'm glad they’re not going to try.)
Though the Spertus Museum is planning a collection-based show for the fall, it’s hard to believe the cutbacks won’t devastate its exhibition program. When I bring this up, Lewis says, “It would be foolish today to predict the future,” adding that the Spertus intends—while aggressively fundraising—to strengthen its focus on “academic think-tanks, work with scholars [and] our collections. We hope to ultimately expand our work on conservation and publishing.” In the meantime, the Institute’s iconic $38 million headquarters, which opened in November 2007, may still be rented for weddings, meetings and other events.