SA Museum of Art Lays Off 11 Employees

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San Antonio Museum of Art at 200 W. Jones Ave. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The San Antonio Museum of Art is located at 200 W. Jones Ave.

The San Antonio Museum of Art let go 11 of its 108 employees last week, Museum Director Katie Luber confirmed Tuesday.

The layoffs were made, she said, because of unexpected costs for roof and HVAC repairs.

“It was a targeted set of staff reductions that reflect both the strength of our existing staff and were made to make sure the museum can continue to operate and deliver its core mission and its excellent programs,” Luber said.

While staff reductions at arts organizations often are triggered by failure to raise funds, mismanagement, rising operational costs, and the like, Luber said the budget problems at the Museum of Art were caused by unexpected expenditures.

“In the last 18 months, the museum has had several unanticipated, very costly capital expenditures – expensive damage to every roof on our buildings during that horrific hail storm [in April 2016] which led to the early closing of one of our exhibitions,” Luber said. While the roof was insured, “insurance does not cover all costs, nor does it pay for ancillary expenses such as de-installing a major exhibition in an emergency.”

The special exhibition Corita Kent and the Language of Pop was forced to close early due to the hail storm.

The museum also needed to replace its HVAC system for the safety of its collections and day-to-day comfort. While raising money to pay for it, two air-conditioning chillers malfunctioned and the cooling towers failed.

Overall, the expenses amounted to $200,000, according to a statement released by the museum Tuesday.

“It all inevitably affects our operating costs, and being good fiduciary leaders we always track our budget,” Luber said. “We saw we were over budget, and we knew we had to make some changes to be able to continue our financial health for the future of the museum.”

The excess expenses would be addressed with “a combination of cost-cutting measures across all departments” as well as “departmental reorganization that will better support our mission.

“The decision to make these reductions was a difficult one, but they are essential to ensure the Museum’s ongoing financial stability, as well as our ability to provide the best and most engaging art experiences to our visitors,” the statement read.

As for the education department, which works with schools and adults for tours and classroom learning, Luber said the department has “a number of capable staff prepared to step in and fill the gap.”

Luber said she hopes to refill the positions left vacant as a result of the layoffs after the budget is stabilized, adding that the layoffs will not affect museum operations “at all.”

“We are able to continue to deliver the innovative programs and exhibitions that we have always made our core mission,” she said. “We are committed to the future of the arts in San Antonio, and our staff is committed to delivering those excellent programs and excellent exhibitions that we’re known for.”

Those terminated have been provided financial support and will receive recommendations and assistance in seeking other jobs, according to Luber.

On Friday, the museum will open an exhibition of Asian art, Heaven and Hell: Salvation and Retribution in Pure Land Buddhism.


16 thoughts on “SA Museum of Art Lays Off 11 Employees

  1. I can’t believe that letting go of the Registrar, Head Exhibits Preparator and the Director of the Education Dept. among others leaves the museum in good shape to continue with its programs with no effect.

  2. If a museum the size of SAMA does not have the money to deal with emergency repairs then something is seriously amiss. Despite the director’s attempt to put a positive spin on the situation, this seems like a simple case of fiscal mismanagement.

  3. Very Sad. It is quite heartless to say that you’ve reduced your staff by 11 people (10%) and it will have no affect on museum operations at all. Way to tell your employees their hard work has no impact. I hope Luber will rid herself of her delusions.

  4. It doesn’t. I know the Registrar and Head Preparator each have about 20 years experience there and they were already understaffed for a museum of that size. It will be difficult for them to manage. I suspect there is a lot more to this than the one side we are hearing from the director. Perhaps if they had filled the vacancy for the director of Development things would not have come to this state. Laying off that many people in the museum field in SA is staggering. There just aren’t that many museum jobs locally. My best wishes to all of them.

  5. This to me seems to be a failure of SAMA leadership. Sadly, the heart and soul of the staff has had to pay for what can only be a series of missteps made at the highest level. Perhaps they let go of the wrong employees.

  6. The situation at SAMA is yet another confirmation of what a disaster Luber’s tenure as director of our museum has been. Her decision to dismiss two gifted departmental curators through forced resignations cost the Museum national standing and squandered traditional and prestigious support of some notable patrons. Rumors of financial mismanagement involving unethical transfers of funds surfaced some time ago, and it is hoped that the present shortfalls might rouse the members of the board from their apparent lethargy to avert the slide into provincial mediocrity into which Luber’s administration seems determined to take our museum. To think she can manage a modern cultural institution’s “excellent programs” without experienced, professional staff members is short-sighted to say the least.

    • AMEN. T W you hit the nail on the head! They have not been able to hire a Development Officer for two years, so little or no money has been raised along with big donors leaving has done more damage than a hail storm. KL made one huge hiring er on said:


    • Unless the baby in question is Luber, in which case it might not be a bad idea to throw her out with the bath water.

      • It’s a conceit to suggest that the laid off staff were fully instrumental in keeping SAMA’s successful programs afloat. The survivors of the lay-offs now suffer, not only the burden of more work, but an unsupportive public.

  7. From the article above it seems Katie Luber as the Director of the San Antonio Museum of Art has terminated experienced and dedicated personnel to cover capital expense shortfalls. Even though there were emergencies with the roof and the HVAC there seems to have been no contingency fund to cover those unexpected losses. That not only indicates a long-term lack of leadership and financial foresight but also a disregard for the short and long term repercussions to the institution resulting from terminating 10% of the workforce. Could there not have been a decision to cut salaries, beginning with the director, to address these shortfalls?

    • Or the elimination of an “assistant director” who has zero qualifications. That might help out to the tune of several tens of thousands of dollars.

  8. Reading this article alone make me doubt their financial planing capacity. Cut 10% people to save 200k and then hope to refill the gap after the budget stabilized? Why go through all these firing and hiring burden within a short period to account for the 200K expense? There should some other ways to keep the staff and save money, for example unpaid leave or something similar. It just show how little respect they have for the employees

  9. AMEN. T W you hit the nail on the head! They have not been able to hire a Development Officer for two years, so little or no money has been raised along with big donors leaving has done more damage than a hail storm. KL made one huge hiring er on said:

    There must have been something suspicious about SAMA’s financial books, because the city had to audit them TWICE!

  10. One question that no one else has raised:

    Where is the board of directors? That’s where the buck stops.

    It is a shame to see SAMA in this state and it is unacceptable. The fact that the board couldn’t raise $200,000 in this emergency rather than seeing the Director let go valuable staff is purely ridiculous. That there isn’t a financial reserve for “emergencies” in a foundation of this scope is unforgivable.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. All of the leadership at San Antonio Museum of Art should be gravely shamed over how far things have been allowed to skid over the past several years. The mismanagement is stunning.

  11. With such good fiduciary leaders watching the budget, why did the city have to audit them twice? Is the financial committee of the board keeping track?

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