San Francisco Exploratorium Employees Brace for Layoffs

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Exploratorium's big move to Pier 15 was expected to draw huge crowds, but the numbers aren't what the museum had hoped for. And now dozens of people are slated to lose their jobs. Stephanie Chuang reports. (Published Friday, Aug 16, 2013)

    From grand parties to layoffs, in just a matter of four months – the Exploratorium’s big move to Pier 15 in April was supposed to attract major crowds. And it did – just not enough.

    Sabrina Smith, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Exploratorium, told NBC Bay Area that instead of the 6,000-7,000 daily attendance range, the first few weeks only netted 3,000-4,000 a day.

    “Right off the bat, we expected it to be a little higher than that,” Smith said. “But we’re seeing a steady climb.”

    Smith, who estimates the attendance at the old site at the Palace of Fine Arts at 2,000-2,500, said there was no way of predicting the discrepancy.

    “We really looked at what museums around country had done, their moves and how its impacted them. It was hard to find that real exact data that would support, so a lot of it was everything we knew, everything we could possibly pull together, and then hoping that we had figured it out as best as we could.”

    Kua Patten, Exhibit Services Director, said he’s been working at the Exploratorium for 20 years, and was “a bit” blindsided when he learned that he would be one of 34 full-time employees on the chopping block.

    He also said he was actually part of the planning process, but that there was nothing management could do to predict the numbers after studying information about other museum moves across the country.

    “We made a conscious choice to make those numbers more conservative than a lot of studies and educated, professional guesses,” Patten said, adding, “We don’t have a lot of cash cushion that maybe a large corporation has so unfortunately when you see the trends are moving against what you’d predicted, you have to move quickly.”

    “We really looked at what museums around the country had done, their moves and how it’s impacted them,” added Smith. “It was hard to find that real exact data that would support.”

    New Exploratorium visitor Valina Agbabian of San Francisco said she wasn’t shocked at the news. “I’m not surprised that attendance is low, but I didn’t realize it was that low. I think the over-projected.”

    The miscalculation led to the elimination of 80 positions, 34 of them full-time, some seasonal workers, and about 20 positions that were set to be filled but will now be slashed.

    Earl Stirling, an exhibit technician and union president, is another one losing his job. He said it wasn’t just planning issues with attendance – but with ticket price discounts, leading to an estimated $3.5 million shortfall each year.

    “People are angry, upset, crying,” said Stirling. “It’s a lot of people who feel some creative part is being let go from this institution.”

    The layoffs won’t be finalized for 30 days, starting from Thursday, when the layoff notices went out. Smith said a restructuring means creating new jobs and giving laid-off workers first priority at getting hired to fill them.