Breaking News: Art Institute Layoffs

June 18, 2009 · Print This Article

pinkslipWe just heard that The Art Institute of Chicago has laid of a good many of it’s employees today and there will be a town-hall tomorrow where other cost saving measures will be announced.

To those who lost their jobs today, be sure to thank Alderman Burke…..

Office: 773-471-1414

On behalf of everyone at Bad at Sports we know very well what this is like and hope everyone lands on their feet as quickly as this economy will allow.

59 Responses to “Breaking News: Art Institute Layoffs”

  1. Richard Holland Says:

    Good many might be an overstatement but there were layoffs, which stinks.

    More info to follow!

  2. I hardly ever comment on blogs but I came across this bit of “news” through Tyler Green and then, some other link led me to Kathryn Born’s blog and her non-objective collage of this issue in relation to the price hike and who knows what else.

    ( I have a family and I know how expensive it is for us to visit any Museum in the city vs going to a Baseball game)

    now, Why is the alderman to blame? or Why is the price hike to blame for the firing? What about AIC flying curators and international press to the city? What about extra expenses on trips to the Venice Biennial–if any? Could those be factors we could attribute to the price hike even? There are too many questions that should be answered before taking any position on this issue.

    Even thought you guys are a blog, once you delve into hard news the stuff gets heavy. I believe BAS should not editorialize before explaining the facts to the broader public. You guys could also wait for the official news to come out and then comment or take an official position.

    You know… these bit and pieces of “news” and facts get out there…and in some ways you have earn it…now you have some sort of responsibility with your community and readership, in Chicago and abroad.

    Another thing that I find weird (given the huge platform given to Born by the big newspaper) is that she has been in favor of the price hike since the beginning:

    so, How objective can she be?

    anyway, just a few thoughts, these are hard times for all of us in the arts…


  3. Pedrovel,

    A grandstanding alderman, in an effort to gain some media attention, put a whole lot of pressure on the AIC to roll back their fee hike (which are going on at many, many institutions) in part. The budget was based upon that fee hike income being a part of it. Less money coming in, you must cut expenses. Staff lose their jobs. Therefore Ed Burke = People getting laid off at the AIC. If you are worried about your family and spending the extra few dollars be sure to go on free day which is Tuesday if memory serves.

    Also, this is a blog, not journalism. People were laid off, true, Ed Burke caused all sort of grief to the AIC, true, thusly the AIC has less income, true, and has budgetary problems. There are layoffs. The conclusion is not a difficult one to draw. Find me facts countering this and we will gladly correct our commentary. I seriously doubt your theory that curatorial trips (or similar expenses) are to blame for the budget woes. I am familiar with a number of members of the curatorial staff to know that they have meager their budgets are and how thoughtfully the make travel and expense decisions (so long as we’re point the “You don’t know the facts” finger of retribution). This is not a matter of a few thousand dollars by all accounts, so the shortfall required something more drastic.

    Besides which, you should be happy, they rolled back part of the admissions increase, you got what you wanted!

  4. I’m out the door, but the alderman is to blame because he brought up the issue and pulled some obscure 116-year loophole out of nowhere.

    Also, I an NOT the Tribune. I’m, a totally separate site. I have not signed the Trib code of ethics, I’m just a blogger.

    Sorry you thought it was rambling, but I do compare the Planetarium admission to the Art Institute. I think there is some relevancy in that comparison, since the argument about the price hike is about families being able to become more educated through extra-curricular outings.


  5. I don’t have a theory on this at all, I just pointed out some questions that are out there…that’s why I’m arguing for better coverage of the issue–BAS being a blog or not– instead of simplistic views like your “go on Free Tuesdays”

    (Tuesdays I’m not free and I doubt many families are)

    But thanks for your explanation, that’s what was needed in the beginning of this post instead of some random attack.

  6. UPDATE: All employees will be required to take a one week unpaid furlough.

  7. Right, I think the role of blogs is to point people to the original news story and help it get traction.

    Like yesterday I passed on Ginny Berg’s twitter thing linking to a Trib article calling for a crosswalk to the AI. I mean, someone is going to die if they don’t build a crosswalk!

    So we pass it around and bring attention to things.

    My politics, actually, is that I hate when they take up publicity-oriented causes, like flag burning, and waste time dealing with this instead of real issues.

    So I think either admission prices for museums is an issue or it’s not, and it’s strange to see so much attention given to one institution’s price and not another.


  8. Kathryn, You are under the Trib umbrella and that’s great but not signing legal papers is no excuse to not follow a code of ethics…I hope this is not like a perennial excuse in the making.

  9. I personally have ethics. But there’s a difference between being a legal liability, or not.

    I don’t think I was unethical. I don’t feel like I’ve posted one opinion that wasn’t clearly labeled “editorial” or “review”. Dawoud’s piece yesterday is a great example of an opinion piece, which we labeled as an editorial. It doesn’t mean we’re not getting tons of heat for it, though.

    For this post, I actually picked up the phone and called City Hall, instead of just speculating.

    So my personal ethical code is sound, but … really, if you could see my contract, I’m not with the Trib. In fact, it’s against my contract to represent myself as an employee of the Trib. I go through none of their editorial process – thus the typos.

    So I just need to make that crystal clear.


  10. Claudine Ise Says:

    I’m unclear about what the ‘original news story’ was here.

  11. The Trib is the platform to access it and they give you the audience–that’s the umbrella–wether you want to accept it or not or… even if you like to think you might be an independent contractor.

    anyway, I have seen your code of ethics on the post that talks about Western Exhibits and your own co-curated show… you wrote about it, made it clear and then broke it at the same time…so, you know, ethics seem pretty flexible here.

    It’s great to have a double standard…when you guys get it right you take the glory, but when you get it wrong that’s you blogger status fault because you don’t respond to anyone or anything.

    but that’s topic for another discussion. Maybe we could do an open forum about it sometime, who knows. I’ll be around tonight and tomorrow at openings…see you there.

  12. likely it was the economy that helped with the layoffs. Is Burke just a scapegoat? like my math teacher used to say, show your work.

  13. What are you talking about PV?

    I wrote about Western Exhibitions because I thought it was an interesting show to see, and there were a bunch of other things on the list in that post, among them the belly-up gallery I work with.

    If I would have acted like I wasn’t in the show, then it’s an ethical issue.

    I’m just not seeing the ethics breach.

    I see a lot of white bloggers largely pushing other white shows. Are they in ethical breach for being non-inclusive?

    I’m just not sure the exact code you’re referring to. The informal/concensus code for bloggers is based on transparency and disclosure. If I previewed WE’s show because we’re buddies, I would have said that too…

    Bloggers promote their own stuff, it’s the substitute for pay. There is a fair amount of consensus on that too. Without the personal plug aspect, most blogging would fold.

    is one take on the issue.

    I’m just saying this isn’t an afterthought for me. This is all we talk about, behind the scenes.


  14. At BaS, Lauren Vallone has been writing really nice reviews: clear, descriptive, and containing a measured amount of good humor. It’s possible to read them and develop a sense of the artwork in question, without becoming confused or bored.

    Claudine too is a good writer. But more [I think that was Wesley was correct to observe] she’s been provocative: intending to generate a response.

    Following Pedrovel above, though not acknowledged in her writing, Kathryn’s most recent piece “South Side!” at

    …does seem to have been informed by the discussion following Claudine’s article “Cruising for Chicks at the Modern Wing,” which is linked at right, in the “Related Posts” section.

    And so it goes: The City of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune, and the Art Institute of Chicago, are all faced with diminishing revenue and increasing demands for representation. To date, quality has not increased in direct proportion to competition.

    Whether you endorse or detest our words, thank you Duncan and Richard [behind-the-scenes people too] for putting up with everyone, myself included.

  15. Paul,

    In any shape or form I have implied that Born’s writing is bad, or for that mater, the work she is doing at Chicago Now..I haven’t even mentioned Claudine ..where do you get that idea?

    I love the fact that Chicago has a ton of writers so, don’t see my view as a complain or a stand against our critics and bloggers.

    and yes, extreme linkage in blogs is very problematic when there is no context, just like was with this one post.

    as for the rest, I agree with “someone”…politicians got into the game and now we all have to deal with it..the alderman is just one part of the story, unless you guys really think the AIC is run by nuns or charity…

  16. Kathryn,

    Full disclosure is the best excuse to overpass ethics…take for example sports and steroids..

    ok now, gotta go, say hi tonight or tomorrow.

  17. “likely it was the economy that helped with the layoffs. Is Burke just a scapegoat? like my math teacher used to say, show your work.”

    While I will admit to being slightly hyperbolic, and I certainly don’t work for the finance office of the AIC, but according to reliable sources there is a fairly clear link here between the amount of projected income lost due to Alderman Burke’s efforts and the shortfall filled by the terminations and furloughs.

    Now if donors were around that could be tapped for more money, this could have been averted I suspect, but in that respect this is tied to the gallery because they aren’t there.

  18. Claudine Ise Says:

    Aha! Here is the Trib story on the layoffs we’ve all been waiting for (or at least, I have):,0,198196.story

  19. […] The rest is here: Breaking News: Art Institute Layoffs : Bad at Sports […]

  20. Paul,

    I gotta say, at least read the post, the north side (God forbid) got listed AFTER the south side. Gasp!

    And included in the south side is Anni Holm, an artist of African American descent, the SAIC, a school for black artists, and the Taiwanese group, which is of course ….well, black.

    So yes, I see your point. My loyalties have clearly crossed over. I’m finished as a writer.

    Ok, I’m off for the night.

  21. PV,

    to put your mind at ease about access the following is a list of ways to see the AIC for free!

    * Free one late evening per week (Thursdays, 5–8 p.m.) throughout the year

    * Free two late evenings per week (Thursdays and Fridays, 5–9 p.m.) during the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day)

    * Free the entire month of February

    * Each school group participant receives a free family pass to return free with his or her whole family at a later date

    * Free admission for holders one of 820 Chicago Public Library museum passes for up to four visitors (doubled from 410 last year)

    * And this year, free the week of the modern Wing opening, May 16 to May 22, 2009

    So head on down to the library and check out a pass!

  22. wow, you guys are so sensitive..for being art writers….

    yeah Richard, nothing better for people in the suburbs than to drive down to the city and see a whole Museum in two hours! but I guess we don’t really care about those people.

    I can use my press pass to get in for free, that’s not the point here, It’s not about us art professionals.

  23. Why doesn’t the Art Institute kill two birds with one stone here? Now that he has lightened the pockets of all respective donors concerning funding for the Modern Wing -while creating a trail of trend inspired acquisitions only a social climbing sociopath could appreciate, they should fire James Rondeau! I’m sure they could easily get more aesthetic bang for their buck by going out and hiring an actual curator -probably for a third of what they are paying Mr Curator-

  24. Michael Workman Says:


  25. Michael Workman Says:

    PV needs to accept he speaks through great lengths of meaty tube in his throat. That’s fair enough, yeah? Enough with the pride in distance from the score, especially with such a great extent of chop packed against the vocal cords.

  26. PV: You should have read further, anyone can check out a free pass for four from the library as well.

  27. I’m confused now…are you calling me a pig Michael?

  28. Fight all you want, but lets keep it clean and professional, please.

  29. Michael Workman Says:

    You need to lay off a smart woman trying to find her voice, you both got a right same as anybody. You know I never thought you were an animal. I always thought you were a good mind. But I can’t say you weren’t bred for a pen. I clearly was.

    Richard-people can have heart and talk serious without a moderator. Don’t be such a choker.

  30. Michael Workman Says:

    Confession: I’m a little pissed at society right now. I am feeling pretty confused and isolated. I wish I did know how to fight my way through it, but it doesn’t really seem to work that way.

  31. Michael, you are always so very sharky, its never anything but a pleasure to hear from you…..come visit me soon, we can drink too much strong coffee, look at work that is about inspiring things (-like war and death-) and plot further vengeance!

  32. Maybe the AIC could use all that “extra space” I hear about, the space in the new wing which is not used to display art. They could rent it out to Strabucks and so on, generate some income and pay their employees.

  33. Actually Mark, they had Rob Thomas give a little concert there the other day…..very appropriate and fitting….who’s next? Clay Aikens? They could use the moment to make Mr Curator an honorary Claymate…..wait! what am I thinking? He probably already is!

  34. I wasn’t fighting and I have nothing against Richard or BAS or Born…(I’m reading Born’s blog and listening to BAS from time to time). The fact that I decided to speak here proves it.

    I believe we were talking about a very complex and important issue..but I’m not willing to take dirty random insults…especially from you Michael. I also don’t like being ganged- up. There’s no need for this tribal/kiddie playground behavior. I’m not here to take anything away from you…don’t be afraid.

    and I’m not willing to expose my views any longer if there’s no moderator in this blog.

  35. Wesley, Rob Thomas? Whew. Maybe they could get some pop stars to do free fundraiser concerts raising money to pay employees instead of build buildings or whatever as usual. Or thousands of Aperos raising money. Aperos seem to be what most museums are about nowadays anyway.

  36. I hate to see people drop out of the discussion, so it would be nice to see folks work it out offline and come back.

    I always say this is a really crappy industry, I don’t pan anyone’s efforts on the blog becuase if people wanted success and money, they could fare better almost anywhere else. Even at the highest levels of the art scene.

    For me personally, I don’t like mean comments, but it’s my job to handle it. I have managed to tick off a leader within the black community and raise fears about coverage in the white community simultaneously.

    And that’s just the way it’s going to go sometimes.


  37. Tony Fitzpatrick Says:

    You’re doing fine Kathryn……

  38. I completeley agree with the idea of a moderator! Why just the other day on sharkforum we had this blowjob of a meaty tube of a review concerning Art Chicago -where the writer went to great pains to kiss every available ass that might belong to someone ‘important’ -starting with Kavi Gupta and running the gauntlet -in terms of its obsequiousness, it was an impressive piece of bowing and scrapping…..describing among other inanities how the hopes of the entire art world here resided with the trajectory of one mfa grad student… was so boldly servile and corrupt as to almost illicit a certain form of admiration -right before you flush the toilet…..I loved moderating that thing off the site! In fact, I out and out censored it! Now, I cannot imagine given the article I am mentioning, that its author would ever have the temerity or nerve to come on this or any other site and question Kathryn’s or anyone elses motives….hypocrisy must have some limits somewhere. Come on, GET REAL.

  39. Tony Fitzpatrick Says:

    also……Pedro– in your private conversation with Wesley you made the inference that ‘Wesley and Tony” ” said something– the comments were Wesley’s—- not mine — I merely made a comment to support Kathryn. I have no opinion about your review of Art Chicago — I didn’t read it.I wasn’t interested in it and less interested in a review of it; given the hand-jobs that run it. Keep your adversarial relationships straight. Yours is with Wesley and Michael– not me– I don’t read your reviews– or anyone else’s for that matter. Opinions are like assholes — everyone has one.

  40. I hope things are picking up for you Michael. It was too bad Bridge wasn’t in Basel — I was looking forward to it and the Sharkforum booth. From your comments here and on facebook you sound pretty down. Hang in there — I remember well all the exciting ideas you had when we talked in Zürich. You’ll make a come back and soon.

  41. Thusfar we have avoided moderation, as usually the discourse, even when heated, stays above the belt.

    We occasionally discuss the propsect, but we loathe censorship, even if it is of people acting like douche-bags. As douche-bags need a forum too (ala Tony’s apropos “asshole/opinions” comment which was right on the money).

    So, again, please don’t make it personal, we’d like to keep things open.

  42. […] Bad at Sports, Chicago’s popular art blog/podcast reported on the recent layoffs at the Art Institute and they pose the question: Did Alderman Burke’s mandate to force lower admission prices lead to lost jobs? Share: […]

  43. On the subject of the original post:

    It’s good to consider the possibility that someone [or some group of people] within the Art Institute made use of the occasion as cover for the purpose of eliminating particular employees, positions, or departments.

    Maybe, pressure from the City was a factor. Maybe, the contraction of the economy was a factor. But, the truth of these things is usually multifactorial in nature. And it’s good to look within the institution, as well as outside its walls, when searching for explanations.

    Ald. Burke, Mayor Daley, James Cuno, Chris Kennedy, et al, need to respond to demands from various constituencies: some of those demands are contradictory; some are simply unreasonable; most are never fully known to the public.

    Chicago depends upon those things that were built by people. Attack too much the AIC, Tribune, UC, even the “big art fair” in whatever form it incarnates, and imperil us all. We’re not SF; we’re not Miami. No one has any other reason to come here.

    Yes, too often parties count upon the necessity of their part, and advance personal interests while claiming to do the public good.

    But, how is the “art world” different?

    Pedro’s questions, above, are legitimate. Writing about the arts in Chicago — in a prominent, public position — affects everyone in the arts in Chicago. Emotional attachment and personal interest moved people [here] to defend Kathryn, and attack Pedro, in a vulgar manner.

    Tony (a): “You’re doing fine Kathryn,”

    Tony (b): “I don’t read your reviews– or anyone else’s,”

    It’s very difficult to reconcile, and very difficult to understand as anything other than the partisanship for which the City is infamous.

    Post-Artner, things have become meaner.

  44. Tony Fitzpatrick Says:

    Paul — I wasn’t being mean– just supporting Kathryn and I don;t have a dog in this fight– I don;t work here anymore –I exhibit in NY, London, New Orleans and Los Angeles– not here– so when I say I don’t care — it is not out of anger — Kathryn is a pal and I think she works hard at civility– I myself , don’t . I wasn’t being mean. Just straightening out a misconception PV had.

  45. Tony Fitzpatrick Says:

    I also didn’t attack anyone in a vulgar manner. I just made it clear nobody else speaks for me. Do we understand each other?

  46. The point [in comment 43] was that your defense of Kathryn was based on your loyalty to her — and not her writing.

    Loyalty to pals [and relatives] counts for a lot in this City. But it’s a two-edged sword.

    Maybe, the reason that you’re in NY, LA, etc, and not here, has, at least a little, to do with some other group’s loyalty to their pals.

    Provoking you is as useful as provoking Ed Burke. And that’s not my intention.

    But, calling people “hand jobs” [you] or “blow jobs” [Michael & Wesley] isn’t likely to result in bridges being built. It reinforces the stereotypes promulgated about us.

    I’ve watched you grow as a painter for a number of decades. And based upon what I saw from New Orleans, you’re doing the best work of your life right now: geometric abstraction entering the frame through harlequin costumes; layers of space increasing; more, and more finely wrought, details in figure and ground; borders. Visually, those things are complex.

    Through criticism and curatorial practice a larger narrative is built — usually according to some prejudice. You and your work don’t fit in the story of art in Chicago that some other parties are interested in telling. Sad.

    How to move beyond *these pals* and *those pals* and just start looking at and worrying about professional capacity, i.e., the art?

    I worry that you don’t understand me. Oh well. It’s not about me. I’ve got to go back to work…

  47. Tony Fitzpatrick Says:

    You make a good point Paul — I like Kathryn’s writing and think that she writes from her heart– I did not call Pedro a handjob– that bon mot was for the creatures who run Art Chicago — and again you are right I should temper my comments with more civility. I just have seen too many opportunities at real community building here fouled by guys just like these guys– the Artist’s Project being an example of something that could have been ground-breaking and good — much like Geisai– and instead was handicapped by short-sightedness and the idiocy of the people who run the Mart; in an effort to appease the merchant-class here…I understand what your saying and appreciate the care with which you say it. You are right — one clique is no better than another. I’ve bought 30 pieces of Art in the last year by Chicago artists– and feel like I’ve scored– it is all wonderful work — I have great love for the artists here and no love at all for the institutional system they are yoked by. The Pygmies, midgets, and Chihuahua’s that run the Chicago art world.

  48. Paul Germanos Says:

    Bless you and your family with health and happiness for many years to come.

  49. yes, support for what is good is the answer, not insulting, boycotting, ignoring or trying to control others

  50. Well, I do know I can be somewhat harsh and warlike at times, it comes with my inherently sharky nature -but I do try to even things out -somewhat, be a force for good. For instance, my (finally up! on sharkforum) review of the new Modern Wing of our wonderful Art Institute…could I have been any kinder? Is it possible or even plausible? That, is the question.

  51. The Artists’ Project, a perfect example of much of “the problem.” I realize Tony is angry at me right now, so I risk raising his ire by agreeing with him, but the AP was to me the greatest missed opportunity for the Chicago artworld in a long long time.

    I took part in the first, against better advice, being excited by Tony’s original idea and thinking that if we had a success, during it we could talk to The Mart Folks and get them to see that Tony’s “Geisai” idea would be great for next time.

    I have a recurring delusion, apparently, that open discussion of issues and not personalities, even with those you see as opponents, can bring them to reason.

    Many of us in the AP did all that and were resoundingly ignored. I should have known better. The rest is history — it got worse and became MORE than a big Zero.

    Can you imagine what it would have been like if they had done his Geisai type idea? I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that is the single largest failure to grasp an opportunity of the Chicago artworld. It should be a lesson, certainly to me.

  52. which is why I took issue with their behinds being kissed on artnet -the status quo being reinforced -for everything, there is a season. Including, A Season In Hell- I consider appeasment in this instance to be tatamount to declaring war on professional artists here.

    This scene has suffered from too much niceity, too much servility, too many people afraid to rock the boat, to say anything…this is the art world, not a miss manners contest.

  53. Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2009: “Chicago is grappling with a sinking tourism-and-convention sector, plummeting revenue from real-estate transfers and a deflated financial-services industry,”


    “In response, Mr. Daley’s administration last week sent out the last of 1,500 pink slips to city workers,”

  54. The City of Pink Slipped Shoulders.

  55. Holy sheeeit. Chi-Art-Collapse beginning? See BaS Twitter on this page above or:

  56. Paul Germanos Says:

    It’s sad.

    I think, Mark, that in terms of their power to draw numbers of bodies into the City, the “Big Three” permanent institutions are: Navy Pier, Lincoln Park Zoo, and the Cubs/Wrigley.

    Combined, the 4 largest museums [Shedd, MSI, AIC, Field] have a pull equal to 1/2 of the Big Three.

    And the Museum of Contemporary Art has an annual draw 1/10 the size of either of the 2 largest public [and temporary] festivals: Air & Water Show, and Taste of Chicago.

    Someone else might have more recent, or more accurate numbers. Too, the museums have controlled access points, and so are in the best position to count. And some inflation might have been practiced by certain parties. Lastly, of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story.

    But even as the Fire and Police are viewed as most essential and therefore last to be cut, it might be instructive to think about how we factor into the City’s economy as the drama is played out…

    Generous giving by private parties has made high culture possible; but the are mean times.

  57. Paul Germanos Says:

    but *these* are mean times.

  58. Michael Workman Says:

    I’m sorry gang. Please forgive my comments. I’ll sincerely try to stay away from BAS permanently.

  59. No one is asking you to stay away! You, as everyone, just need to keep it in the realm of discourse and away from personal attack.

    No worries.

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