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Walters Art Museum lays off seven

Faced with a 27 percent drop in the value of its endowment funds and expected cuts in state and local government grants, the Walters Art Museum announced today that it has laid off seven employees, imposed a salary freeze and staff furloughs, and canceled an exhibition that was to have had the museum collaborating with the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Getty in Los Angeles.

Earlier this year, the Hackerman House, where the Walters' Asian art collection is displayed, was closed on weekdays in a cost-cutting move.

The furloughs "are all at the top," Walters museum director Gary Vikan said today. "It's like a progressive income tax. Nobody earning less than $30,000 will be furloughed." Vikan will take one month of unpaid leave before the museum's fiscal year ends June 30. Other management employees will account for the rest of the furloughs.

The canceled exhibit, slated for spring 2010, would have featured the work of French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. Vikan said the planning for the project had been going on for two years.

"But there would have been a $300,000 net loss to us. In normal times, we could have lived with that," he said. "Canceling that exhibit, and losing the chance to work with the d'Orsay and the Getty, was really painful."

There are no plans to reinstate admission fees at the Walters. "The board is wedded to the free policy," Vikan said. "They love it; I love it; and the staff loves it."

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