LONG BEACH - The Museum of Latin American Art has cut the equivalent of 4.5full-time positions, including its chief curator, and slashed its operating budget by nearly 15 percent, officials confirmed Thursday.
"We needed to take the necessary steps to get our budget back on track," said Stuart Ashman, the museum's president and chief executive officer. "We were operating outside of our means, but once the dust settles, this will prove to be a positive step for a very bright future."
The museum made the cuts Monday following a vote by the board of directors Nov. 2, Ashman said.
Ashman said two people were laid off, another position was reduced from full time to part time, two people were moved to lower-pay positions, and another position was left vacant. That leaves 44 employees at the museum, 42 of which are full time, Ashman said.
He said the museum cut $600,000 in expenses, bringing its annual operating budget to just under $3.5 million. There were several areas that couldn't be cut - health care, insurance, utilities - but the museum did cut considerable funding to printing, publications and travel, and also renegotiated contracts.
"This included a lot of juggling," he said. "The fact that we had a personnel-to-budget ratio that was very high and wasn't resolved by cutting of just personnel is a positive. I think this will provide an opportunity to work within the means of the museum, while creating the kind of programming that the public has been expecting.
The Museum of Latin American Art has the "usual struggles that museums face," Ashman said.
Ashman said that in recent years, the museum has seen declines in membership and attendance, as well as a reduction in individual donations.
Another major blow was the death in 2009 of the museum's founder, Dr. Robert Gumbiner, who donated "significantly to the museum," Ashman said.
"He would write a check at the end of the year to cover whatever shortfall there was," Ashman said. "He's no longer here. Our angel is gone. But the culture of the museum was operating like he was."
Gumbiner, a wealthy entrepreneur and art collector, took care of everything the museum needed, Ashman said.
"He would decide the program and then fund it," he said. "He did leave an endowment for the museum, but it only covers about 35 percent of the budget. Bottom line is, the museum became accustomed to Dr. Gumbiner writing a check, and we can't continue on that way."
The museum received a $25million endowment in 2009 from the Gumbiner estate, Ashman said.
"The buildings are here, the endowment is here and the support of the community and sponsors are strong, (and) the future will be strong as well," Ashman said.
One of Monday's layoffs was vice president of curatorial affairs and chief curator Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, who just started her job with the museum Aug. 17. She came from Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation and the Ella Fontanals Cisneros Collection in Miami.
Fajardo-Hill oversaw the museum's growing collection and shaped an exhibition program embracing up-and-coming artists as well as recognized masters, Ashman said.
"We acknowledge Cecilia's important contributions during her tenure at MOLAA and wish her continued success with her work in the field of Latin American art," Ashman said in a statement posted on the museum's website.
But Ashman said the museum still has two "wonderful curators, one of which has been here for 11 years, the other who has her finger on the pulse of contemporary art."
The Museum of Latin American Art was founded in 1996, and it claims to be the only institution of its kind "exclusively dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American art." Ashman joined the museum in 2011 having previously worked as New Mexico's secretary of cultural affairs.
Ashman said the cuts weren't a surprise.
"We have known for several weeks that we were going to need to reduce the budget," he said. "We put a letter on our website explaining the process - and we implemented the recommendations on Nov. 5."
The decisions weren't made overnight, Ashman said.
A task force, consisting of board members and staff members, was formed to analyze the financial issues confronting the museum and to make recommendations to the board of directors for action, he said.
"We are confident that with this new budget in place that we will be able to deliver a budget in the black, while maintaining exactly what the public has become accustomed to," Ashman said.