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Will the Getty Come A-Tumblin' Down?

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Photo by scani via LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr

Photo by scani via LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
The Getty has a nearly-three-decades-long reputation of being an unabashedly wealthy organization with lofty cultural ideals. Launched in 1982, the Trust was put in place to assure late tycoon J. Paul Getty's vision of bringing art to the people and spreading knowledge. Despite some growing pains (and what billionaire family doesn't have a little scandal now and then?) the Getty, predominantly associated with their two local museums, has remained a stalwart figure in the local and international art scene. But the Getty isn't impervious to the fickle fate of finances, and last December, the Trust revealed that their endowment monies had shrunk by 25%.

Now the Trust "is slashing its operating budget nearly 25% for the coming fiscal year, an emergency response to investment losses that have totaled $1.5 billion since July and nearly $2 billion since mid-2007," the LA Times is reporting.

Getty Trust President James Wood has plans to keep the empire from crumbling, but that means curbing spending on staffing, exhibits, and new acquisitions. But the cuts must come soon, as Wood says "the financial stability of the Getty, the world's richest arts institution, could 'fall off a huge cliff' if it delayed drastic cuts and hard times continued." And "cliff-falling" jokes are no laughing matter when your flagship campus sits atop a massive hill.

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The LA Times explains the planned spending cuts:

The reductions at the Getty should focus on operations that can easily expand again, Wood said Friday. Cuts may well be in store for temporary exhibitions, which have totaled more than 20 a year. The Getty may also defer buying new works for its collections of ancient art, European art from before the 20th century, illuminated manuscripts and photography.

Firm decisions specifying cuts will be made by the end of spring, but Wood emphasizes that free admission is something the Getty will not stop offering. As recently as last fall, however, the Getty implemented a slash in hours of business and a hike in parking--the only fee they currently charge.Staffing seems destined to be the arena in which the reductions will be most widely felt. Wood insists that the Getty will not curb their focus on education and research in order to throw their attention solely on museum endeavors, but since their "biggest expense by far is the combination of salaries and benefits, which totaled $124.6 million in 2006-07, according to its most recent available federal tax return," it seems likely the ax will fall most swiftly on the heads of their employees. One anonymous staffer has been venting on a blog for the past few weeks created to track the economic woes of their employer.

Currently the Getty employees 1,395 full-time and 101 part-time workers, including the aforementioned blogger, who conducted a poll and found that "102 people (77%) said staff morale is poor" at the Getty. And with good reason--it will be a long, hard fall from atop that magnificent cliff.