An era has ended at Seattle Art Museum: Greg Olson, who created and curated the museum’s acclaimed film program for nearly five decades, has been laid off and his position eliminated.
Though Olson could not provide details due to a nondisclosure agreement, he confirmed that he was told in late December that his longtime position at the museum, which had been part time, would end in early January. Olson was among many SAM employees furloughed during the pandemic; a museum representative acknowledged that others have been permanently laid off as well but would not say how many.
“SAM Films has been suspended since March due to COVID-19 health restrictions and limits on indoor gathering,” SAM associate director of public relations Rachel Eggers wrote in an email. “We do not foresee being able to start it again until public health officials advise it is safe to have audiences in our theater and we are able to operate again at full capacity. Unfortunately, we do not know when this will be. The program will continue, as always, to be under the auspices of SAM’s Education & Public Engagement department.”
Olson, who spent his entire career at SAM, programmed his first series for the museum in 1972: eight Alfred Hitchcock films. Later that decade, he began what became a beloved fall tradition at SAM: the Film Noir Cycle, an annual celebration of the noir genre which celebrated its 42nd anniversary in 2019 and was believed to be the longest-running film noir series in the world. Over his half-century at SAM, Olson programmed dozens of seasonal series: screwball comedy in summer, noir in fall, filmmaker/actor tributes or a selection of films from a particular country or era in winter and spring. Olson’s films had a strong following; many of the noir series attendees had been coming for decades. It is unclear whether SAM will continue those series. He also showed numerous standalone films connected to or inspired by SAM exhibits.
Eggers declined to address Olson’s particular situation, saying she could not comment on specific staffing decisions.