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The Science Museum of Minnesota is the latest large nonprofit to cut employees, laying off 158 staff Tuesday — nearly 40% of its workforce.

The St. Paul museum, which shut its doors March 13 due to the pandemic, has lost $10 million in revenue since then.


"It's just an unprecedented time," CEO Alison Brown said. "They're really fantastic employees and it was hard to deliver these messages."

The COVID-19 closures have hit nonprofits hard, with about a third of all nonprofit workers in Minnesota filing for unemployment during the pandemic. Cultural and arts organizations have fared worse since they rely on revenue from visitors or events.

The Minnesota Historical Society has laid off more than 200 employees, more than a third of its workforce. And the Minneapolis Institute of Art lost 39 staffers to voluntary buyouts and layoffs last month.

Since April, the Science Museum has furloughed 450 of its more than 500 employees. Now, the layoffs will cut expenses so the nonprofit can stay financially afloat until next summer, Brown said, adding that she hopes there won't be any additional cuts.

Half the Science Museum's $40 million annual budget goes to salaries and other compensation. Over the next few months, most of the approximately 300 employees who are still on unpaid furlough will be phased in as they return to work, Brown said. Even though the museum isn't opening to the public until Sept. 4, employees will work on preparing exhibits for other museums, equity work and putting together online school lessons.

About a third of the museum's revenue comes from visitors. Since April, Brown has taken a 75% pay cut and other leaders have taken 60% pay cuts while working to make "certain the museum is viable for the long-term," she said.

She expects to dip into the museum's $40 million endowment to help cover deficits and will use a $4.6 million federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to cover staffing costs.

For visitors who return to the museum in September, the museum will look different, with everything from touchless ticketing to increased sanitizing. Some exhibits and labs will be closed.

"We had a lot more physical things to change out than an art museum," Brown said of the later reopening date.

The museum will be at 25% capacity, so it may not even break even, Brown said. She expects lower attendance for many months to come, projecting a loss of $20 million in revenue between now and next summer.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141