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PEM announces staff reductions

Released June 17, 2020

PEM announces staff reductions in order to sustain nation’s oldest continuously operating museum

SALEM, MA— Due to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the State order to close all nonessential businesses, the Peabody Essex Museum’s operations have been severely impacted. PEM announces staff reductions in order to sustain museum operations, and these will impact 15% (38 of 260) of the museum’s staff across all departments and will go into effect today.

“It is with deep regret that these layoffs are now necessary. We have been able to keep our staffing level whole, without furloughs or layoffs, over the last four months during the museum’s closure, but at this juncture, this is no longer sustainable,” said Brian Kennedy, PEM’s Rose-Marie and Eijk Van Otterloo Director and CEO. “PEM staff have shown themselves to be passionate, skilled, and inspired beyond measure. They have helped the oldest continuously operating museum in the country blaze a trail and positively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people each year. We are indebted to their service and hope for the hastened conclusion of the COVID-19 crisis which is deeply impacting so many lives and so many treasured cultural organizations."

Since closing its doors to the public on March 12, PEM has taken decisive steps to shore up its finances, pivot to a digital practice, and provide uplift and support to the community. It has continued to pay all staff salaries for part-time and full-time workers with endowment revenue and cash on hand. Receipt of a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan allowed the museum to sustain its staffing levels for an additional eight weeks than would otherwise have not been possible. Nathalie Apchin, Chief Financial Officer, said, “PEM anticipates a reduction in its operating budget from $36M in 2020 to $30M in 2021. The museum will sustain a $6M loss in revenue this year due to the COVID-19 public health crisis and staffing reductions were needed to ensure the stability and sustainability of the 221-year-old organization. To further address personnel expenses, all staff making over $110K have taken pay reductions ranging progressively from 10% to 25%.”

To contain non-personnel expenses, PEM halted all construction and landscaping projects on its campus and canceled several public programming events and loan exhibitions this spring. The run of its headlining summer exhibition, Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion, has been pushed out to November 21, 2020, through March 16, 2021, and work on collection-based installations dedicated to the Salem Witch Trials and to Salem’s history, as well as the museum’s new South Asian art galleries are designed to attract visitors this fall. A guide to the collection, the first of its kind since 1946, is set to publish this fall, and the museum’s strategic planning work to define the institution’s next 5 years continues in earnest and will be responsive to the pandemic and post-pandemic conditions, and in particular address issues of diversity and inclusion, social justice, equality, and equity.

During closure, the museum launched the #PEMfromHome campaign to encourage the public to “Stay well. Stay inspired”. A range of digital content produced by the museum is helping keep those in quarantine engaged with lifelong learning. To support at-home parenting efforts, PEM’s storytime and art-making programs are now streaming online and 360-degree virtual tours of PEM’s galleries share curatorial insights with the wider world.

To support healthcare workers, the museum donated its supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to North Shore Medical Center and launched a #WeArePEM fundraising campaign to donate museum memberships to caregivers as an expression of gratitude for their life-saving work. Around the museum’s campus, banners provide uplift and encouragement to the community and, through participation in the #SalemTogether campaign, PEM is highlighting works from its collection that underscore the resilience of the community throughout history.

“Museums help us make meaning of our world, connect us with our past, making it relevant to our future,” said Kennedy. “PEM is a venerable institution that embraces a continual state of innovation and evolution. The museum will ultimately weather this storm and, when it does, find itself a continuing and essential part of our culture and community.”

PEM has not yet announced a reopening date but intends to do so as soon as possible, staying responsive to the guidance of public health and governmental officials. The museum is planning measures to ensure the safety of its staff and the public when PEM does reopen. Updates will continue to be provided on

Over the last 20 years, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing art museums in North America. Founded in 1799, it is also the country’s oldest continuously operating museum. At its heart is a mission to enrich and transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. PEM celebrates outstanding artistic and cultural creativity through exhibitions, programming and special events that emphasize cross-cultural connections, integrate past and present and underscore the vital importance of creative expression. The museum's collection is among the finest of its kind boasting superlative works from around the globe and across time -- including American art and architecture, Asian export art, photography, maritime art and history, Native American, Oceanic, and African art, as well as one of the nation’s most important museum-based collections of rare books and manuscripts. PEM's campus affords a varied and unique visitor experience with hands-on creativity zones, interactive opportunities and performance spaces. Twenty-two noted historic structures grace PEM’s campus, including Yin Yu Tang, a 200-year-old Chinese house that is the only such example of Chinese domestic architecture on display in the United States. INFO: Call 866-745-1876 or visit

Whitney Van Dyke | Director of Communications | | 617-259-6722