Cuno’s Memo: 34 Positions Eliminated at Getty Museum, Mostly in Education, for “More Efficient Operations”

UPDATE 2: An interesting post on the Getty cuts at Hyperallergic ends with this provocative question: “Are museums Universities of Vision or Churches of the Eye?”

UPDATE: The website Art Museum Teaching has posted a stinging critique of the Getty cuts by Robert Sabol, president of the National Art Education Association. Sabol calls the Cuno’s decision to cut gallery educators “a significant step backward” and “out of step” with the museum field. You can read Sabol’s full letter here.

In the comments to the post, Cuno has responded (via Getty PR chief Ron Hartwig) saying, “This new approach will not reduce our educational programs or the quality of teaching available at the Museum.” Two educators have also commented, questioning the accuracy of Cuno’s statements. One notes, “At the Getty Villa alone, four out of five Gallery Teachers, the Education Specialist for Gallery Teaching, the Education Specialist for School and Teacher Programs, and the Manager of Education were all laid off. Obviously, when one considers the volume of work these seven people accomplish on a daily basis, there is no question that the quality of programs is already severely affected, and will continue to diminish!”

This morning, Getty CEO James Cuno sent out a memo to Getty Museum staff announcing the elimination of 34 staff positions. Ten positions were eliminated today, and Cuno is looking for  another 24 staffers to volunteer or face layoffs on May 7th.

Monday’s move is the latest in Cuno’s shakeup at the museum, which began in February with the dismissal of Thom Rhoads, assistant director of administration, and Guy Wheatley, a manager at the Getty Villa. At the time, Cuno said the cuts would “allow the Museum to focus more on collections and exhibitions and less on administrative matters and site-wide operations.” Some saw it as a move to concentrate power in the Getty Trust, which oversees the Museum.

Monday’s cuts target the museum’s education department, which has long been known for its use of staff gallery teachers rather than volunteer docents. That approach has been “rethought to be more cost-effective and to reach more children through a robust docent program,” Cuno told staff this morning. Volunteer docents will now be the norm it appears. Last year, the department served more than 860,000 visitors to the Getty Center and Getty Villa. Recent evaluations of the program’s activities can be found here. The Getty’s support for busing students from poor communities will not be affected.

UPDATE: I’m told of the 17 gallery teachers now employed, only five will keep their jobs. Managers positions at both the Getty Center and Villa were also cut.

UPDATE #2: The LA Times has details on the cuts here.

Here’s the full memo. We’d welcome your thoughts and comments below or anonymously via

Dear Getty colleagues,

Just a short while ago, I emailed Museum staff to let them know the outcome of the meetings I have held over the last two months with the Museum’s leadership team to ensure its resources are being deployed in the most effective manner. The objective throughout that process was to maintain the Museum’s very high standards of excellence in all areas, while at the same time determining where we can realize savings through more effective and efficient operations.

The discussions during the review process were open and candid, with many ideas developed and exchanged, and we always were guided by a commitment to preserving the museum’s core mission:

●   Building the Museum’s collection by acquiring works of art of the greatest importance;
●   Preserving its curatorial ambitions (research, exhibitions, and scholarly publications);
●   Strengthening its conservation work; and
●   Serving a large and diverse public through educational programs and online access to information about its collection, curatorial and conservation research, and curricular resources.

The actions being taken will not affect curatorial or conservation staffing.  Programming for students, families and adults will remain in place, but the program has been rethought to be more cost-effective and to reach more children through a robust docent program.  We will maintain the number and ambition of our excellent exhibitions.  We will increase our efforts to fill priority gaps in collection documentation and improve our visitor experience by providing greater access to information.  I have challenged all of our managers to leverage technology in our work to enhance the visitor experience.

Changes at the Museum will include the transition in September from the primary use of gallery teachers to docent-led gallery experiences so that more visitors, particularly students, will have a Getty-led tour.  There will be no reduction in the number of school visits, including students from Title One schools.

In addition to the reduction in gallery teachers, some administrative and project-focused staffing positions in the Education Department will be reduced, along with staffing in Exhibitions and Imaging Services.   We will also seek volunteers from among our Visitor Services staff to better align staffing requirements in that department.

The changes will result in 10 layoffs, and we will ask for volunteers for 24 additional positions that are being eliminated.  Meetings were held this morning with affected staff.

The departure of valued members of the Getty Museum’s staff is difficult, but I want to assure you that each of those leaving will receive a very generous severance package identical to those offered by the Getty in the past. All of those laid off will receive their regular pay and benefits during a 60-day non-working notice period, and  will be eligible to receive two additional weeks of pay for every year of credited service over four years.  If an employee elects to take the coverage, the Getty will pay up to three months of COBRA payments to extend health benefits.  The Getty will also provide a generous allowance for outplacement services, and of course, pay all accrued and unused vacation and personal hours.

The layoffs being announced today will be handled in two ways.  Some staff will be notified today that their position has been eliminated and they will have the option of remaining at the Getty until Wednesday to transition their responsibilities and say farewell to colleagues.  In other cases, we will ask for volunteers.  On Monday, May 7th, volunteers will be notified if their offer has been accepted.  Those individuals will have the option of remaining at the Getty until Wednesday, May 9th to transition responsibilities and say farewell to colleagues.  If we do not receive sufficient volunteers, additional layoffs will occur on May 7th.

I will be meeting with Museum staff tomorrow to further explain the review process and answer their questions.  These changes are difficult, but I am confident they will result in an institution that is more focused on its core priorities and better positioned for an uncertain economy and lower endowment returns.



9 responses to “Cuno’s Memo: 34 Positions Eliminated at Getty Museum, Mostly in Education, for “More Efficient Operations”

  1. And just how does a museum “maintain the number and ambition of our
    excellent exhibitions” and lay off designers, preparators and other
    exhibitions staff at the same time???

  2. I fail to understand the logic behind this rather threatening statement: “If we do not receive sufficient volunteers, additional layoffs will occur.”

  3. Sojourner Truth

    This is my first visit to the blog and I notice that both authors are journalists. I think Cuno’s shakeup is begging for a media exposé. Asking people to voluntarily give up their jobs is just sadistic. And at a broader level this is just going to make the collection a much more elite enterprise and deny broad swaths of the public access. Despicable.

  4. Elizabeth Cady Standon

    Cutting education programs? Really? I mean, Cuno, really? Way to lose opportunities for meaningful experiences for “the unwashed masses”. Enjoy your temple on a hill; I hope it keeps you warm at night. And shame on you, anonymous board members of the Getty Trust–SHAME ON YOU.

  5. Nancy McLain

    Of the billions of dollars that the Getty has in trust, why on earth would Cuno eliminate the educators who bring the collection to the world? It’s truly a sad day when money wins out over people’s lives and the interests of the museum in general. New acquisitions to the collection will hardly make up for what’s being lost in this talented pool of individuals, some employed at the Getty since it’s opening. Most of them hold masters and PhDs and will not be adequately replaced by volunteer docents.

  6. As a 6th grade teacher who has attended the Summer Institute at the Villa, I am furious that Mr. Cumo feels docents can and should replace the wonderful art educators the Villa has. It is due to the expertise, knowledge and congeniality that I have been able to increase my knowledge about the art of ancient Greece and Rome and share my enthusiasm with my students. If you really believe that educators are not necessary – YOU ARE WRONG. A headset does not replace the one-on-one conversation and sharing of inquiry offered by all of the Education Dept at the Villa. I have attended many Wednesday workshops for teachers, fighting traffic and fatigue, to find myself renewed by the educators at the Villa and the wonderful afternoons of sharing different ways to look at and teach my students about burial, clothing, cuisine, furniture, jewelry and magic to name a few workshops. The enthusiasm that I have been able to share with my students and the knowledge they have before visiting the Villa, enhances their visit a hundredfold. The parents that chaperone, many of whom attended Saturday workshops, are literally blown away with the experience they and their children partake in on their visit. Everyone of my students has told me that the Getty Villa trip was the best museum experience they ever had and the majority of them, visit again, acting as tour guides for their families.
    I prepare a self-guided visit for each class, and no group sees the same artifacts. It is only due to Jeanette’s ability to explain how to use the website and her answering of e-mail questions quickly, that I change the experience yearly. Yes, I could have just stuck with the same visit again and again, however, each time I create a new venue or stop, I increase my knowledge and excitement. Each group views a mosaic, a fresco, sculpture, the outer peristyle, herb garden, east garden and inner peristyle. My students understand symmetry, how fresco is created, the story behind the Boxers mosaic, the intense and time consuming labor entailed in the making of a mosaic, and sculpture.
    These educators, you just cast aside, offer something no other museum offers to classroom teachers. I feel blessed to have been able to share time with every one of the educators at the Villa, and feel a connection with each. It pains me to see, you, Mr. Cumo, believe that docents can do an iota of what the educators do.
    I believe it is a museum’s obligation to enhance the experience the individual
    visitor has. I visit museums every time I travel. Headphones regardless of how much info they convey, do not make the experience special.

    Your educators, do make the experience special. My students appreciate and cherish their visit and discuss it with their parents. They realize that viewing art is not just a quick look, but a deep appreciation for the vision, technique and labor that went into a piece. I am truly sorry that you cannot see the need to continue a program that enriched the lives of so many teachers and young people. This is something money can’t buy and I truly do not understand why the Getty Trust, which is $4 billion strong, does not believe a minute portion of that money should go to the salaries of these “special” educators. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art does not offer the programs you have decided to obliterate.

    Linda Gold

  7. I thought many of you might be interested to know that the President of the National Art Education Association released their letter to the LA Times Editorial Board. You can link to that and more about the response of museum educators here at
    And I linked to Chasing Aphrodite because I had not seen Jim Cuno’s letter to staff yet, and that was very interesting to read. Overall, I think NAEA nailed it when they called this move a “significant step backward.”

  8. Pingback: Letter to Cuno: Dismissal of Educators Sparks Discord Inside Getty Museum | CHASING APHRODITE

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