The Portland Museum of Art announced on Thursday that it is reducing its staff by 13 positions, citing the financial strains caused by the pandemic and a resulting 35% decrease in visitations since 2020.

The museum issued a statement Thursday thanking the community for its continued support, saying “the PMA will forever be in the public trust, and it is in that trust that we openly share a few present challenges for the museum, and the difficult decisions we’re making today to build a more sustainable tomorrow.”

The Portland Museum of Art on Wednesday. Aimsel Ponti/Staff Writer

The museum said the 13 layoffs include salaried and hourly employees on its roughly 100-person staff. Front-line support staff, including gallery ambassadors and security associates, who recently voted to unionize, will not be impacted by staff reductions. The layoffs took effect Thursday.

Mark Bessire, the museum’s director, is taking a voluntary 20% reduction in his annual salary of about $440,000 as part of the restructuring effort.

A museum spokesman said the layoffs should not be misconstrued as a sign the Congress Square landmark is in decline.

A pause is needed for the museum to stabilize its finances as it prepares for a brighter future that envisions an expanded museum on its Portland campus at the intersection of High, Congress and Free streets, Graeme Kennedy said in a phone interview.


“(The layoffs are) truly a financial decision, a last resort,” Kennedy said. “We need to expand and build more infrastructure in order to have a shot at thriving. If we can do this, this could really cement Portland’s status as a cultural destination. We believe that having an arts and culture center will help all of the city thrive.”

“Like many museums, municipal, and cultural organizations, we continue to be adversely impacted by the instability of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the museum said. “As expenses continue to remain high and unpredictable, the real and persisting negative effects of this historic moment have necessitated changes in the PMA’s operations.”

The Portland Museum of Art purchased the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine on Free Street in 2019 with an eye toward growth. The buildings are within a few feet of each other and overlook Congress Square.

The museum is in the midst of trying to convince the city to remove a historic designation from the 1830s building, an approval it needs before the building can be demolished and used to accommodate the museum’s plans for an expansion. The city’s planning board held a five-hour hearing this week on the request before voting to table the discussion.

Museum officials have said the expansion will more than double its size and transform Congress Square into a cultural destination for the region. The museum says it no longer has space in its current building for its growing collection of artwork.

The museum said its outdated facility and “the deterioration of the Congress Square neighborhood,” makes the expansion project all that more important.

Since 2020, the museum said it has seen a 35% decrease in attendance “because fewer visitors and workers are coming back to Congress Square and our spaces for programmatic growth are limited.” Visitation peaked in 2019, the year before the pandemic started, at 175,000.

“We are carefully and collaboratively designing long-term plans for a stable and scalable future. In the meantime, we will continue to bring art into the PMA collection that expands narratives and creates conversation,” the museum said.

This story was updated at 11:40 a.m. Friday to correct the salary of museum director Mark Bessire.

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