The San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA) laid off four employees on Jan. 28. CityBeat first reported the news in a Feb. 12 blog post, in which museum director Roxana Velásquez provided a statement explaining the move.
"In an effort to assure a balanced budget, the leadership and board of trustees at the SDMA determined that several adjustments had to be made to the museum's expenses for the current 2014 fiscal year," Veásquez's statement read in part. "Unfortunately, this resulted in the difficult decision to eliminate four positions, and make reductions in marketing budgets and select public programming."
Velásquez also mentioned the robust programming and exhibitions planned for the 2015 Balboa Park Centennial Celebration. The price tag of that programming appears to be one of several factors applying financial pressure on the Balboa Park institution's budget despite a recently publicized $1.5-million gift from Conrad Prebys and Debbie Turner, which was, in part, geared toward helping to fund centennial-celebration programming.
SDMA would not disclose the names of those let go, but it did confirm that the positions were from the education, visitor services and development departments. A visit to the museum's website, however, revealed that Alexander Jarman, the public-programs manager, and Renee Fricke, director of development and membership, have been removed from the staff page (cached versions of the same page had them previously listed). Both are relatively high-level positions. Jarman, a former CityBeat cover artist, is well-respected and appreciated by local artists, many of whom have shown work at SDMA in Jarman's Summer Salon Series and Summer Break programming.
"It was a blossoming of opportunities for San Diego artists to showcase their work in a museum context, and a lot of people got exposure and were able to be associated with a museum for the first time," Vasquez said. "SDMA is an old museum in San Diego, and it has a very conservative image. Before 2010 [when the Summer Salon Series started], you would have thought Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is the cutting-edge museum in town. But when Alexander started doing his program, that changed. SDMA grabbed the mantle and, suddenly, they were cutting-edge."
In addition to the layoffs, several positions of staffers who've left SDMA, such as gallery director and marketing and communications manager, remain vacant.
According to the museum's most recent tax filing, revenue has declined. In 2012, SDMA took in a little more than $13 million. In 2013, revenue was reported as $7.3 million. Much of the loss is related to a drop in individual giving, which totaled more than $8 million in 2012 and a bit more than $1 million in 2013. However, that's a number that fluctuates regularly and dramatically due to benefactors giving large, unexpected, one-time gifts.
SDMA's chief operating officer, Dieter Fenkart-Froeschl, who stepped into his role a few months ago, says that, overall, the museum's financial situation is stable. Citing audited financial statements rather than raw tax data from 2012 and 2013, he says SDMA actually saw an increase in overall net assets.
"I believe the institution has a very healthy balance sheet, and, honestly, I wouldn't have joined the team if I didn't think there was a bright future," he said.
Fenkart-Froeschl said the cuts in staffing and programming are simply an effort to balance both current and projected drops in revenue—a result of several factors including dips in admissions and memberships—with an ambitious budget and exhibition schedule for the upcoming fiscal year.
"It's not a huge financial disaster," he says. "It's just us doing our proper due diligence."
In an effort to help balance the budget, SDMA says the senior leadership team, including Velásquez, whose base salary was raised by more than 7.5 percent from $263,029 in 2012 to $282,782 in 2013, took a 5-percent salary cut.