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MFA Director Malcolm Rogers Discusses Museum Cutbacks

The recession has hit the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

The MFA is laying off 33 people, 4 percent of its staff. Most of the cuts will come in the museum’s retail and fundraising departments. Another 21 open jobs won’t be filled, and there will be a salary freeze next year, plus pay cuts for some top executives. We spoke to MFA Director Malcolm Rogers about how the economy is hurting the museum.

What’s driving these cuts?

MFA DIRECTOR MALCOLM ROGERS: Very simply, the economy. But the other thing that’s driving the cuts is a continued commitment to serve our vistior well. In everything that we’re doing, we’re hoping that the visitor will not notice any diminution in service. And, in fact, we know they won’t. So we’re thrilled about that just as we grieve the losses.

Let’s talk about a few of these things in a little more detail. As I understand it the museum’s retail business and fund raising are down?

ROGERS:  Well, the truth is that retail throughout the nation is down and we’re responding to that trend. The other thing you need to know is we just triumphantly finished a $504 million campaign, and naturally we would slim down after that. It’s also plain that the fundraising climate is not a great climate at the moment.

As I understand it, museum salaries are going to be frozen next year. And several executives, including you, are taking pay cuts.

ROGERS:  That’s absolutely right. I think to show the people who lead the organization are suffering as well is very, very important, even as we strive to make things better.

Other museums have raised ticket prices recently. For example, from $9 to $18 at the Art Institute in Chicago. Is that under consideration at the MFA?

ROGERS:  It’s something we considered and rejected. As I said, our commitment is to serve the public better. And I think museums have never been more vital in the community than they are now as places of solace, of recreation and learning.

And, just think about it. This is a great time at the museum with a fantastic exhibition: Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese. The Huntington Avenue entrance reopening. And the new 20th-century gallery opening. We want to keep that positive story going, to entice our visitors and to serve them better, even in difficult times.

Do you think the Renaissance artists exhibition you just mentioned could be the last major show until the economy improves? Will the MFA pull back on its major exhibitions?

ROGERS: I’m absolutely convinced that it will not be the last such show. As we’re looking to the future, we’re planning great exhibitions of, you know, the American glassmaker Dale Chihuly, we’re looking to a great Degas exhibition — and beyond that. The question is, you know, strengthening the program, not cutting into our strengths, even in difficult times.

As you’re coping with budget cuts, the museum is finishing work on its new American wing, set to open next year. No delays in that project?

ROGERS: No delays. We seem to be on time, on budget. And fortunately, had the guaranteed maximum price, so that helps as well. Clearly, as I say, the museum is on a leadership trajectory and, as we’re cutting, we cannot cut into our success. It’s all to do with serving the public better and making more art available.


This program aired on April 3, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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