Status: 04/13/2020 8:28 a.m..

The Metropolitan Museum in New York actually wanted to celebrate its 150th anniversary. But then came the corona pandemic. Instead of partying, the fear of layoffs prevails.

By Stefanie Dodt, ARD-Studio New York.

A huge cake, baked by the employees themselves, speeches, a big ceremony, live music: the MET would have celebrated its birthday in a big way. Not only on this anniversary day, also in the coming months. A parade in Central Park, a festival weekend in June: everything canceled.

The museum has been closed for exactly a month. “It’s lonely at the MET,” says museum director Max Hollein. He and the security guards are mostly the only people in the museum at the moment. With around 1.5 million exhibits on almost 200,000 square meters, it is considered one of the most comprehensive and important museums in the world.

Unique standstill: The Metropolitan Museum has been closed for weeks.

Unique exceptional situation.

In Central Park, behind the museum on New York’s Fifth Avenue, people fight for their lives in a tented hospital. “If we see that there is a hospital in Central Park, then there is no reason why we should celebrate now,” says Inka Drögemüller from Lüben in Lower Saxony, Director of Education and Digital, in the ARD interview. “We are now thinking: what can we give back to society?”

An exceptional situation that the MET has never seen before. Even after September 11, 2001, the museum was only closed for two days. Now the employees are creating a replacement museum online for the visitors at home: “Content, contemplation, inspiration, support for everyday life”, says Drögemüller, everything digital.

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Financial risks.

Virtual museum visits. The opera “The Mother of Us All” as a digital premiere. Instead of the regular reading hours for children in the museum, “Storytime” is now available as a video.

The hands-on activities on social media, in which visitors can reproduce a work of art of their choice, are also particularly popular.

Behind the scenes, employees are increasingly afraid of the future. The US museums are mostly privately funded foundations with no public money. “For smaller institutions this is currently life-threatening,” says the Austrian museum director Max Hollein in an interview with ARD. Larger institutions are also already feeling the financial consequences of the closings: the Guggenheim Museum, just a few meters from the MET, has already taken leave of almost 100 employees and cut salaries for others.

Fear of job cuts.

The MET Museum is backed by around $ 3.6 billion in foundation money – so far the museum has calculated a loss of $ 100 million due to the pandemic. However, the funds are tied to specific purposes, explains Hollein: “Our foundation assets are only available to a very limited extent for operational purposes. We have already diverted the funds that we can divert from them.”

By May he was able to assure his more than 2000 employees that all salaries could be paid. “But if the MET continues to be closed for many months, it will be impossible for us to support the entire staff like this.”

Hope to reopen.

Inka Drögemüller also senses the fear of losing her job in discussions with her employees. “Everyone who is now in the home office wants to show in particular how important they are and what they do from home, they put themselves under tremendous pressure.” Drögemüller tries to cushion this pressure as much as possible, “but of course I cannot take away your fear that there will be layoffs”. A layoff in the midst of this crisis would be a disaster for many.

The great hope of the staff and the museum is now to be able to reopen in July – even if Director Max Hollein describes this as an “optimistic belief”. At least part of the anniversary celebrations should then be rescheduled in October. Despite all the uncertainties: “We know that it is something that is passing, we will reopen,” said Hollein.

He is already particularly looking forward to this moment.

The Tagesschau reported on this topic on April 13, 2020 at 4:00 p.m..