This story was updated with comments from the museum at 11 a.m.
As she prepares to depart Phoenix Art Museum early next month, CEO Amada Cruz is busy tying up loose ends — by firing people. As many as nine museum employees, including members of the education and registrar’s departments, were laid off on Tuesday, Phoenix New Times has learned.
Although the museum has yet to release a statement regarding the sackings, sources are saying the layoffs are meant to repair a nearly $1 million deficit in the museum’s budget. If so, this disproves repeated claims made by PAM that Cruz reversed the organization’s debt after assuming directorship in 2015.
“If the museum is in the black, how come they needed to lay off employees to make up for a debt?” asked a volunteer who showed up to work in the museum’s research library, only to find the library closed — because the librarian was among those who’d been let go.
“We were told there’s no plan to hire a replacement, and the library has no reopen date,” said the volunteer, who remained anonymous for fear of being the next in a long line of ousted volunteers.
A museum official confirmed that there have been layoffs.
“We made a significant reduction in operating expenses,” said Margaree Bigler, the museum’s assistant director of marketing and communications. “This included the very difficult decision to reduce the museum's workforce by seven positions out of approximately 200 that make up the museum's staff. Our goal throughout this process was to continue to work toward the long-term financial sustainability of the institution, while continuing the same high standard of exhibitions and educational programs for the diverse communities we serve.”
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Among the others fired is School Programs Manager Michelle Sparks, the last remaining educator left in the education department after Cruz cleaned house upon arriving in 2015. Also gone are a member of the preparator’s staff and an employee of the registrar’s office. The layoffs follow a museum hiring freeze of late last year. In return for what one of them called “a pathetic, tiny amount of severance,” those laid off were made to sign an agreement that they would not speak to media.
The layoffs are likely an attempt to mitigate criticism of the museum’s debt-free claims, made repeatedly in its newsletters, its press releases, and to the media, and always attributed to Cruz, who has been hired as CEO and director of the Seattle Art Museum.
PAM’s interim director will reportedly be Mark Koenig, now the museum’s chief financial officer. A leaked financial statement shows the organization will finish fiscal year 2018-19 more than $2 million in debt; an approved budget for next year commences with a deficit of nearly $1 million.
New Times will continue to follow this story as it develops.