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Five employees laid off at MAC in museum cost-cutting move

The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is laying off five employees. The museum, shown here in a 2011 photo, is located in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture is laying off five employees. The museum, shown here in a 2011 photo, is located in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Five people have lost their jobs at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture as the stand-alone state agency struggles to find its financial footing.

Wesley Jessup, the museum’s executive director, said the layoffs were not yet final.

“Options have been offered to these employees,” Jessup said. “Letters went out today, and they have five days to respond. Until that happens it’s difficult to know if these layoffs will even happen.”

As a state agency under the Department of Enterprise Services, the museum follows state seniority rules. Due to this, an employee facing a layoff can “bump” another employee at the museum with less experience or seniority.

Jessup would not share which positions were cut from the museum.

The MAC, located at 2316 W. First Ave in Spokane, currently employs 47 people, including the five facing termination.

Jessup said the museum has had its best years as of late, but still struggled to get on sound financial footing. The museum’s “Titanic” exhibition drew 74,000 people, the largest amount of people to attend a MAC exhibit. The museum has 3,300 members, the highest number it has ever had.

Still, in its most recent fiscal year, the museum’s budget was $4.8 million, with the state government contributing about $2.2 million.

“We’re trying to reset this organization,” Jessup said. “We’re looking to be the most efficient state agency we can be with our limited funds. We’re doing the best we can.”

Most of the 15 trustees on the MAC board did not return calls for comment. Some spoke on background, saying that the eliminated positions “did not serve the mission” of the museum.

The stated mission of the museum is to “engage our audiences in the appreciation of art, history, and culture of the Inland Northwest and beyond through collection stewardship, exhibitions, and programs that enrich and inspire.”

Cece Perko, a trustee, said Jessup was still dealing with the repercussions following the board’s repeated firing of Forrest Rodgers, who was the museum’s executive director.

Rodgers was fired in 2012, but the board backtracked after a public outcry and rehired him. At the time, the museum had five directors in five years and had experienced years of financial turmoil leading to Rodgers’ rocky tenure.

The board voted to fire Rodgers again, for the final time, in 2016.

But Perko said Jessup had brought stability to the museum, and said many times the museum was “lucky” to have him as director. Jessup was hired in March 2017.

“These layoffs really are much needed in order to streamline things and make it more sustainable. But it takes a long time to get anything done,” Perko said. “It’s always hard to lay people off, to make sure you’re doing the correct thing for the situation. But most of them are really maintenance. They’re redundant because they’re redundant.”

Perko said the layoffs would make the museum more efficient.

“He didn’t do this in a callous way, or a vindictive way,” Perko said of Jessup.

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