Accountability Project

Cultural Institutions Cashed In. Workers Got Sold Out.

AFSCME Cultural Workers United (AFSCME CWU) analyzed federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan data from 228 of the biggest loan recipients to assess whether cultural institutions truly prioritized their workers during the pandemic.

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Institutions with large endowments and multimillion-dollar budgets grabbed hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded loans and grants to fill their coffers, then tossed their workers to the curb. Those most affected worked on the front lines of guest services, admissions, retail sales, education, maintenance and security, among others. As a result, many staff who directly served the public were furloughed or laid off, with Black, Indigenous and other people of color disproportionately suffering the impact.

$771.4 million disbursed vs. 14,400 workers let go

Many of those same institutions even ended 2020 with budget surpluses, including 67% of art and history museums. While museums were raking it in, thousands of workers remain out of work.

Proportion of 228 biggest cultural PPP recipients reporting FY2020 operating surpluses.

AFSCME Cultural Workers United (CWU) is calling on policymakers to protect workers’ voices. Museums who accept public funds must use them to retain and invest in their workers. In exchange for receiving public dollars, they must also certify that they will not deter workers from joining and forming a union, which is the most effective way to hold institutions accountable.

Supporting cultural workers is an investment in the arts and institutions that enrich our communities. As civic institutions, cultural organizations must use public funds to protect and invest in the workers who provide educational programming to kids and adults, protect and care for animals and art, and broaden all our horizons.