The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is one of dozens of major cultural institutions across the US that has resorted to layoffs amid a prolonged shutdown. At the start of the month, the museum, which has been closed since March, announced that it was terminating 57 employees, with an additional 56 staff members taking voluntary retirement. Earlier, in April, the MFA furloughed more than 300 staff members—more than 40 percent of its 750-strong workforce.
Now, current and former staffers are stepping in—independent of the museum itself—to lend a hand to those hardest hit. In the latest example of peers raising money for colleagues through mutual aid, staffer Jordan Barnes has organized the MFA Boston Mutual Aid Fund. According to its GoFundMe page, the fund has already exceeded its $75,000 target by $25,000, raising a total of $100,175 from 230 donors in the space of just one week.
The initiative is described as a community-based fundraiser outside the umbrella of the museum and established by and for the workers of the MFA. It is run by current and former colleagues who believe mutual aid is “one significant way to demonstrate collegiality and support.”
Noting that “overburdened unemployment systems have often been unable to offer immediate relief,” coupled with the fact that the additional $600 a week benefit for those out of work ended last month, the MFA’s fund will give donations directly to staff who have been laid off or had their furloughs extended between March and July 2020 and who need support covering rent, bills, food, and medical expenses.
This includes both full-time and part-time staff, restaurant associates, contract staff, fellows, teen staff, and interns, according to the GoFundMe page. “We will try to prioritize those hardest hit,” the group’s founders write. Depending on the amount of money raised, individuals can expect to receive amounts up to $500, and possibly more for extraordinary circumstances.
Organizers said they do not expect to have any leftover funds given that financial need will be immediate and widespread.
Mutual aid efforts—which serve as a symbol of both staff unity and the challenge of addressing inequality swiftly on an institutional level—have been launched by the Tenement Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Brooklyn Museum. (The latter saw four-figure donations from the museum’s director, former director, and board chair.)
The MFA Boston expects to bring back 211 of the 301 furloughed workers starting in August. “The fund is a wonderful initiative and to see the outpouring of support and generosity from across the MFA family has been incredible,” a spokeswoman for the museum told Artnet News. “Our thoughts are with our colleagues during this very difficult time, and we’re grateful to the group of staff who organized the fundraiser.”