The coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate Seattle’s arts and entertainment community, with Seattle Art Museum, ACT Theatre, Chihuly Garden & Glass and the Space Needle all experiencing new or continued layoffs.
Seattle Art Museum said in a statement this week that it will begin furloughs and reductions in hours for its staff on July 5. A $2.8 million Paycheck Protection Program loan, as well as funds from the museum board and donors, had previously made it possible to pay all full-time and part-time employees, securing payroll through the end of June. About 76 workers will be affected by reductions in hours, according to a WARN notice received by the state Employment Security Department. SAM is committing to paying health insurance premiums for all enrolled staff and their dependents through the end of September.
The statement said that the staffing actions are intended to be temporary, but that the museum “cannot predict an end date at this time, given the current uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis and when SAM might be able to reopen.” The museum is currently planning a July 31 reopening, but that date is subject to guidance from the governor’s office and state and local health officials. Any reopening is likely to be at greatly reduced capacity, at least initially.
ACT Theatre said Tuesday that its 2020 season, which was to have begun in March and continued through November, has been canceled in its entirety, along with its ACTLab season and the Young Playwrights Program.
“We assessed our ability to reopen at a reduced capacity and how we could adhere to government advice around safety compliance,” Becky Witmer, ACT’s managing director, said in a statement. “The safety of our patrons, artists, staff and everyone who enters the building is a top priority. Unfortunately, due to the intimacy of our spaces throughout the building, we are unable to provide a safe and viable solution while maintaining distancing, which will continue for some time.”
The theater is “in discussion,” the statement said, as to whether the plays selected for the canceled season, which include works by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney, will return to ACT at a later date. In the meantime, the theater will pivot to presenting “a series of digital theatre events that speak to our time and continue to create engaging community conversations.”
Gail Benzler, ACT’s director of marketing, said that the theater laid off 46 employees by May; about 17 remain employed. ACT will continue health benefits through August for those laid off. The theater received approximately $800,000 in Paycheck Protection Program funds. Though Benzler said the theater hopes to invite many of them back when next season begins to ramp up, a return date for those workers is indefinite.
ACT’s more than 3,800 subscribers will be notified by the theater in the coming days and weeks. Benzler said that the theater is hoping that subscriptions can be donated back to the organization: “That will really help us move forward.”
The Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass, both of which have been closed for several months, have extended the March layoffs of the majority of their employees: 182 staffers for the Space Needle and 97 for the Chihuly Garden. Public relations manager Amanda Lansford said that a little more than 50 employees remain. A return date for the laid off workers has not been set.