SAN FRANCISCO — In the 2000s, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) granted $1.3 million in home loans to staff in leadership positions. The museum’s board approved a reportedly interest-free $801,900 home loan for director Neal Benezra in 2002, followed by a $500,000 loan for former senior curator Gary Garrels in 2008. Now, labor union representatives and xSFMOMA, a group of former employees agitatingfor change at the museum, say these transactions symbolize the institutional inequity accented by recent layoffs and furloughs.
On Friday, August 28, SFMOMA announced a 20% furlough for all staff, framing the cuts in an internal announcement as an “equitable” measure designed to avoid layoffs. It is the third round of cuts to devastate the museum this year. In an interview with Hyperallergic, Nat Naylor, SFMOMA’s representative with OPEIU Local 29, bristled at the idea that the cuts are equitable: a companywide percentage reduction cannot be fair — it hurts the lowest-paid workers the most.
“A 20% cut to salaries that range from $400,000 to $20/hour is not equitable mathematically on its face,” Naylor said. “As the museum confronts very real financial strain as a result of not being able to open, one has to wonder about all of the money they’ve put forward in fringe benefits such as housing loans for Neal Benezra and Gary Garrels. […] For our members this cut can mean not making rent, and it’s just the right amount that they can’t qualify for unemployment.”
Naylor added that the cut is a “slap in the face” to the dozens of employees who’ve been working onsite while the museum is closed to the public. She also said that the museum has not answered the union’s calls for hazard pay and travel compensation. “Some of our members have been basically losing money trying to get to work safely since April, during a pandemic and then with bad air quality,” Naylor said. “Now they’re being thanked with this 20% pay cut.”
The home loans resonate as symbols of institutional inequality because “ongoing increases in costs of housing and living have made the already expensive Bay Area more difficult for art workers,” xSFMOMA said in a statement to Hyperallergic. “SFMOMA, like many nonprofit institutions with billionaire boards, exists to generate and preserve wealth by exploiting the interests of the people it purposes to support and serve.”