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Posts Tagged ‘aid’

Congress provided $25 million in aid to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and that institution turned right around and coldbloodedly furloughed people on its staff.

Meanwhile, the compassionate director of a different arts organization just wanted to figure out how to save her employees’ jobs.

Sarah Cascone reports at Artnet News that “by redeploying her staff in some ingenious new ways, the director of Texas’s Blanton Museum has managed to avoid job cuts. …

“As museums shuttered throughout the US, many were forced to cut staff through layoffs and furloughs … But thanks to some creative strategizing, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin has managed to keep its entire staff on the payroll since the school shut down operations on March 13.

“Museum director Simone Wicha, who recently published an op-ed about her approach in the Wall Street Journal, began thinking about ways to redeploy staffers who were unable to work during a prolonged shutdown. …

“ ‘From the beginning, I realized my team would likely be idle for at least four to six months and we needed to reinvent,’ Wicha told Artnet News in an email. ‘What also was clear was that social distancing would be needed for a much longer time frame, so budgeting would be different for a very long time.

‘I was distraught about what [the shutdown] might mean for our team, and started realigning the budget immediately to prevent layoffs,’ she added. ‘Beyond the financial challenges, I was especially mindful that losing our sense of purpose as a team or having individuals whose job was suddenly obsolete would create tremendous anxiety — and that’s not healthy.’

“With that in mind, Wicha asked the museum’s department heads to identify potential projects to work on during the lockdown — things that normally would be pushed to the bottom of the to-do list by more pressing day-to-day needs. Then she drafted a questionnaire for staffers, asking them to evaluate their skills in areas not necessarily related to their regular job responsibilities — were they a Photoshop whiz? A great writer?

“Wicha then matched the 32 employees whose jobs were most at risk to 30 new lockdown projects. …

The maintenance man stopped worrying about paint touchups and HVAC repair and started assisting the development department by drafting thank you notes for donors, making use of his beautiful handwriting.

“Security guards were redeployed to add ‘alt text,’ or descriptions for the visually impaired, to images on the museum website. Art handlers and event planners have been doing collection research about the museum’s lesser-known artists.

“More than just busy work, these tasks will help the museum long-term as it looks to bounce back from the extended closure. And not only are they keeping staff on the payroll, these new responsibilities have been good for morale.

“ ‘I’ve heard directly from various staff members about how they’ve enjoyed interacting with others not usually involved in their workday routine, and how they’re proud of advancing the museum’s mission for our community,’ said Wicha. …

“Although these measures have been a success, the Blanton’s finances are still shaky, and will likely remain so even after reopening.

“The Blanton’s annual operating budget is an average of $7.7 million, and the university provides about 18 percent of that, making admissions from visitors and fundraising its primary sources of income. With the doors closed, that money would no longer be coming in, but some 40 percent of the museum’s expenses went toward programming and departmental needs — installation costs, advertising, summer programming — which Wicha could cut. The rest represented salaries and benefits for the staff of 70. …

“Wicha said. ‘We’ll have to continue to be thoughtful and creative about our program in order to avoid layoffs in the future.’ The Blanton will remained closed through at least the end of June, when the University of Texas plans to announce its reopening plans.

“ ‘We won’t be going back to the same museum we left on March 13,’ said Wicha. ‘It will be a whole new experience for us and for our visitors. But I believe that sharing beautiful experiences around works of art will bring us — and keep us — together.’ More.

Photo: Kate Russell/ Blanton Museum of Art
Says Artnet News,Museum director Simone Wicha has found new projects for staff most at risk of losing their jobs during the shutdown.”

Blanton Museum's Simone Wicha inside the Ellsworth Kelly installation, Austin.

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I see a lot of discussion on social media about whether this company or that school is doing the moral thing in the pandemic, and I think it’s reasonable to criticize wealthy institutions when they lay off employees with little severance or health-care coverage or when they fail to help college students with housing if they can’t go home. But some organizations use their ample resources more ethically. Consider Yale University’s School of Music.

Zach Finkelstein writes at Middle Class Artist about a massive stimulus package for music students that earlier this month, the Yale University School of Music “offered its students, over 200 young musicians — a relief package on a sweeping, unprecedented scale.

“In a March 31st letter to alumni, Dean Robert Blocker outlined an ambitious plan to provide aid, including ‘a one-time stipend of $500’ to all students to assist with travel and expenses; full pay, despite social distancing, for all student employees through May 1st, 2020; and relocation of all international students who could not return home to University housing.

“For the remainder of the semester, Blocker announced that all classes and degree recitals have moved online. …

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Photo: Matt Fried

“The Yale School of Music is in a rarefied position among its peers to provide aid. Under the leadership of Dean Blocker, the school has grown its endowment from $29 million to over $400 million, in part due to a ‘transformative $100 million gift.’ Since 2005, thanks to this generous donation all students admitted receive a full tuition award and fellowship.’ …

“Alumni interviewed were deeply moved by the School’s actions on behalf of students: ‘I am proud to know that my alma mater, the Yale School of Music, is taking proactive, compassionate steps to aid its students during the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis. … By putting its considerable resources to good use – such as housing students, disbursing emergency funds, or paying student employees for cancelled work — the YSM is taking a lead role among its peers in finding a helpful, humane response. This is a wildly scary time for many musicians around the world, and it is heartwarming to see a world-class educational institution stand up and support its artists.’

“Another alumni also stated their pride in Yale, and that the email ‘showed the generosity possible from heavily-endowed institutions as well as a level of interpersonal caring that has not been exemplified across the board, in the university or professional settings. Our student colleagues are some of the most vulnerable and impressionable amongst us, and Yale’s willingness to help with issues of housing and travel, as well as extending a generous financial donation to each student, sets a great example to the community at large.’ ”

You might say, Well, look what a wealthy institution it is! But there is no end of examples of wealthy institutions that are not doing much of anything. The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, for example, received $25 million from Congress as part of a coronavirus relief package and promptly furloughed workers, saying it was running out of money. And while Amazon’s Jeff Bezos gives millions to Covid-19 relief, he is making extra billions for himself and not protecting his workers.

So I have to applaud whoever does the right thing for people who are in their care.

More at Middle Class Artist, here.

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In a recent Wired article, Sarah Zhang calls the humble tarp “an aid worker’s secret weapon.” I had no idea the amount of work that went into developing a reasonably priced tarpaulin that won’t fray or get too hot.

“Ask an aid worker,” writes Zhang, “and the paeans to tarpaulin come pouring out. Cheap, lightweight, and waterproof, ‘tarpaulin is the most common shelter material,’ says Joseph Ashmore, shelter consultant for the International Organization for Migration. Responders and survivors can use tarpaulin for roofs, fences, and flooring—but don’t limit your imagination to shelter. ‘I’ve seen people dry rice on it, in latrines, as bags, as trousers, as umbrellas,’ Ashmore adds.

“Not all tarpaulin is created equal, though. The Red Cross catalog’s tarpaulin is the crème de la crème of plastic sheeting. … These obsessively engineered 4×6 meter plastic sheets last years, and it all goes back to one French … .

“Patrick Oger was a purchasing officer for Doctors Without Borders when he first got the tarpaulin assignment in 1993. …

“Working mostly alone — while still doing his job as a purchasing officer — Oger completed the specifications for tarpaulins in three years. Since 1996, the Red Cross, UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and Oxfam have given out millions of tarps manufactured to those specs. Factories in China, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, and Kenya churn out the tarpaulin to use all over the world. And they’re cheap, at just $15 a pop in the Red Cross’s catalog. ‘We’ve really made a good product. It is saving money. It is saving lives,’ says Oger.”

Read here how Oger befriended and learned from an engineer at the Danish company where tarps were previously sourced (a company that charged a high price because it had patented the eyelets) and how he kept making technical improvements and testing them.

I like that Oger is still inventing. I’ll never make a blanket judgment about purchasing officers again.

Photo: Reuters/Corbis
Tarps are unloaded for distribution for internally displaced people in Mubimbi, South Kivu, DRC, on March 4, 2013. 

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This extra post is just to give you suggestions for where you can send donations. Send love through your thoughts. Send donations to Doctors without Borders or one of these other relief organizations, here. You can specify which disaster you want your aid to go to. I personally do unspecified in case other disasters follow and the money is needed for them.

Thank you, Asakiyume, for the list.

Photo: NBCNews

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