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New York Met Planning to Sell Artworks to Pay Staff’s Salaries


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New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is in trouble. The effects of the restrictive sanitary measures promoted by the Government to deal with COVID-19 have hit the country’s largest museum hard, resulting in significant losses of up to $150,000,000.

For this reason, the Met is analyzing “letting go” works to pay the salaries of its employees and to face the economic deficit generated by the pandemic and the restrictive sanitary measures such as the confinements that have affected, among other activities, the tourism sector and cultural spaces such as cinemas, theaters, bookstores and, of course, museums.

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, since last month the Met had already begun talks with auction houses and curators of collections to find a way to sell some works. “This is not the first drastic measure adopted by the institution, after 81 employees were laid off last spring and the president and CEO and its director took a 20% pay cut. The rest of the board of directors saw their payments reduced by 10 %,” explained the Spanish newspaper.

“We must consider all options. None of us has a clear perspective on how the pandemic will evolve, and so it would be inappropriate not to consider it [the sale of works] when we are still in the dark,” said Max Hollein, director of the Met.

More than a year after the Met’s headquarters closed its doors, its director stated in a virtual conference that the sale of works is a plausible option, although not confirmed, according to EFE.

The Met has not only been affected by the closures, but also by the vertiginous fall of its visitors. The museum, for example, is currently open to the public, and was one of the most valued and visited tourist-cultural attractions in all of New York, but now it has been left without its main income: the visit of tourists.

According to an estimate by the City’s tourism marketing agency, NYC & Company, New York will only recover its usual tourist flow by 2025. However, by the middle of this year, visitors would rebound if cases and deaths from the coronavirus begin to decline.

In any case, the museum’s economic decline continues unabated and is an immediate problem.

“Although currently open to the public, what before the pandemic was one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions is suffering from the lack of visitors, and the sharp drop in income is complicating both the conservation of its collections and the expansion of the institution’s flagship building on Fifth Avenue, with a new wing that goes into Central Park,” El País reported.

In addition to its main building, the Met has two others, the Met Breuer, dedicated to contemporary art, and the Met Cloisters, located in northern Manhattan and focused on European medieval art and architecture.

All of the Met’s venues were forced to close to the public on March 13 when New York became the epicenter of the virus in the U.S.

Met - New York - El American
Don Felder, guitarist for The Eagles, plays a guitar with two necks during a press conference for the new exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York, U.S., 01 April 2019. (EFE).

The Met says the measures are temporary

As if that were not enough, the Met also suspended its 150th anniversary celebrations in June. This meant another hook to the chin against the museum that had prepared important exhibitions for that date with the intention of generating income.

The Met’s director said that the evaluation of the sale of works is a “temporary” measure and that it is not new, as the museum has been making this kind of moves for years to generate income and buy other pieces. What happens is that now that money is to reduce the financial deficit and pay salaries.

“At this point, it is important to stress that we have been ‘deacquisitioning’ works for decades, and that we have a very robust and very professional ‘deacquisition’ practice,” commented Met director Hollein.

On the other hand, Daniel Weiss, president of the Met, said the museum closed “on March 13 with the idea at the time that we would close for a few weeks to allow the society to find its way through the pandemic. We figured it would be a few weeks and everything would be fine, but of course it wasn’t.”

“Weiss stressed that the museum has been through other tough times before, such as the 1918 pandemic, the Great Depression, two world wars and the 9/11 terrorist attack, but it has never experienced a year as tough as 2020,” according to EFE.

“We have had to develop a plan to protect the institution financially to overcome this problem, and at the same time make sure that we are going to be a strong and healthy institution in the coming years, once we get through the pandemic,” Weiss insisted.

Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón is a journalist at El American specializing in the areas of American politics and media analysis // Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón es periodista de El American especializado en las áreas de política americana y análisis de medios de comunicación.

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