Aug 10, 2020
News

The director of Tate defended a decision to cut 200 jobs from its commercial sector.

A demonstrator outside Tate Modern during a protest on July 27, 2020. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images.

A demonstrator outside Tate Modern during a protest on July 27, 2020. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images.

The director of the Tate museums group— made up of Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives—Maria Balshaw, has defended the institution’s decision to cut some 200 jobs among its shop and café workers due to COVID-19. In a conversation with host Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Balshaw cited reduced visitor numbers and the challenging business climate as factors for the cuts.
Balshaw said on Desert Island Discs:
We are consulting with staff about redundancies. But we have used as much of our own reserves as we can to preserve the jobs throughout this period. So staff were kept on 100 percent pay all the way through lockdown, and we’ve delayed this period of consultation for as long as we can. We don’t want to lose any staff, but we know we have to, otherwise the business won’t be able to trade.
Balshaw also noted that Tate is expecting about 50 percent of their usual visitors for the foreseeable future, resulting in less need for staff in its commercial spaces. Some members of Parliament (MPs) have brought up concerns about the layoffs, writing that “workers affected are low paid with a significant number at risk coming from the BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) community.”
Balshaw’s statements comes after weeks of uproar over the proposed layoffs. When Tate galleries reopened their doors on July 27th (the institutions shuttered on March 17th due to the pandemic), protesters gathered outside of Tate Modern. The protesters echoed the MPs’ concerns that the cuts to the commercial arm will disproportionately impact people of color on staff at the institution.
Many museums around the world have been forced to make similarly drastic staff cuts due to the pandemic. Institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and countless others have pursued a range of tactics to reduce headcounts, from ending agreements with contract workers to furloughing and laying off staff.

Further Reading: How Three Very Different Museums Are Dealing with the COVID-19 Crisis