The Brooklyn Academy of Music, a multi-venue performing arts center, is laying off 13 percent of its staff and is paring down its upcoming 2023-2024 season, according to the New York Times. BAM operates four venues in Brooklyn (the biggest is the 2,100-seat Howard Gilman Opera House) and programs a mix of theatre, dance, music, opera, film screenings, and multidisciplinary work. This news comes on the heels of other arts institutions around the country announcing layoffs and scaled-back programming, due to financial troubles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Times, BAM will eliminate 26 staff positions, offer seven shows (instead of 13) for its Next Wave Festival, and program fewer shows in the 2023-24 season. The news was announced to the staff at BAM via a company-wide email from its president, Gina Duncan. In the email, Duncan wrote the layoffs were a necessary way to cut costs due to budget deficits and so that the organization can “weather the downturn in charitable giving for the arts, and address an outdated business model that heavily relies on a shrinking donor base.”
Since the pandemic, BAM has cut its operating budget from a little over $50 million to $30 million. And, this is not the first round of layoffs the institution has had since coming back from the pandemic. Prior, BAM had 256 full-time staff positions. It now has a little under 200.
Playbill has reached out to BAM for a statement.
BAM is the latest large theatrical institution that has gone public with its financial woes. For theatres that were forced to pause because of COVID-19 and then reopen again, audience numbers have not gone back to where they were pre-pandemic, leading to loss of ticket revenue. In addition, for non-profit theatres that depend on grants from government entities (like the National Endowment for the Arts) and private philanthropy, those levels of giving had decreased substantially. At the same time, labor costs and cost of materials to mount shows (such as lumber) have increased, making it more expensive to produce theatre. This has led many longtime institutions to cut costs, often drastically.
Most recently, Off-Broadway's Public Theater announced it was putting its annual Under the Radar Festival on hiatus (and laying off the festival's longtime director Mark Russell), saying, "The Public, like almost every other non-profit theatre in the country, is facing serious financial pressure. We have not returned to pre-pandemic economics, neither in our expenses nor our revenue."
Across the country, Center Theatre Group (the biggest theatre in Los Angeles) announced it was completely cancelling the season at one of its three venues, which was going to present a world premiere by Broadway playwright Larissa Fasthorse. The theatre is also laying off 10 percent of its staff. Say its leaders in a statement: "Center Theatre Group...continues to feel the aftereffects of the pandemic and has been struggling to balance ever-increasing production costs with significantly reduced ticket revenue and donations that remain behind 2019 levels."
Even the Metropolitan Opera is being forced to cut back, with 10 percent fewer shows next season (18 instead of the 22 that were onstage this season). Currently in stages across America, it may look glamorous onstage, but backstage there are mounting challenges.