Mass layoffs for MN science, children's museums amid coronavirus shutdown

Science Museum of Minnesota
The Science Museum of Minnesota said Tuesday they would temporarily lay off much of their staff and remain closed given the financial crisis driven by the coronavirus.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2015

The Minnesota Children’s Museum and the Science Museum of Minnesota said Tuesday they would temporarily lay off much of their staff and remain closed given the financial crisis driven by the coronavirus.

The children’s museum, which has a $9 million annual operating budget and 150 full- and part-time employees, said it would furlough 75 percent of its workers effective March 29 and reduce salary and hours for those remaining. It will also suspend exhibit development and production.

Children’s museum leaders said they were also extending their previously announced two-week closure and now anticipate a three-month closure. The operation, they added, will be in a “dire financial position.”

“The closure comes during our busiest attendance season, making the impact all the more severe,” Dianne Krizan, president of the children’s museum, wrote in a community letter Tuesday morning as she pleaded for fundraising help and noted she would personally take a 75-percent pay cut. She said the layoffs would involve about 100 people.

“We are projecting that a 12-week closure will diminish the organization’s income from March through June by more than $2 million,” she wrote. She added that a longer closure posed a risk of “insolvency,” and said the museum needed wide ranging financial support, including membership renewals.

The cash reserves can’t go on forever, and we’re skating out on pretty thin ice with our current plan, with how much cash we have projected to have on hand by mid June, which is what a three-month closure would get us to,” Krizan told MPR News.

Even if a formal shutdown order is lifted by state authorities, she added, it isn’t clear when parents and museum goers would regain the confidence to resume museum outings and other public gatherings.

Leaders of the Science Museum of Minnesota on Tuesday also put out a fundraising plea as they announced a shift to online-only programming, while temporarily laying off 87 percent of its more than 500 employees.

The museum shut its doors on March 13 following the guidance of state officials.

“Closing was the right decision for the health and safety of our employees, volunteers and visitors, but it is creating a financial hardship during our busiest time of the year,” CEO Alison Brown said in a statement Tuesday. “Temporarily laying off employees was a tough decision. It is unfortunately necessary as we consider the long-term viability of the museum.”

The layoffs take effect on April 2. The Science Museum has been paying employees at their wage rate since March 13 and will continue to pay medical benefits through April 30.

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