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LACMA loses 23% of its investments in meltdown year

November 20, 2009 | 12:29 pm

No arts nonprofit is apt to show a rosy balance sheet for the year of the great economic meltdown, unless by rosy one means red ink.

LACMA In the case of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which recently posted on its website the audited financial statement for the 2008-09 fiscal year ending June 30, the bad news includes a 23% decline in the value of its cash and investment portfolio, from $254.7 million to $196 million.

Barbara Pflaumer, the museum's chief spokeswoman, said that by quickly reining in spending when the economy tanked, including a hiring freeze, canceling some exhibitions and postponing a $50-million segment of its ongoing expansion and renovation program, LACMA avoided "any major hiccups that kept us from operating on a normal basis" and managed to escape the large-scale layoffs that have hit many other big museums, including L.A.'s J. Paul Getty Trust and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

With L.A. County footing nearly a third of the bill, LACMA's expenses -- including such mandatory costs as depreciation and interest on its $385-million debt -- came to $74.1 million for the year, down a tick from $74.4 million in 2007-08.

Eight jobs were lost, however -- six by layoffs, and two via retirement vacancies that won't be filled  -- leaving a LACMA staff of about 350. An additional 16 openings won't be filled until finances improve.

Of greatest concern, LACMA saw donations shrink from $129.7 million to $29 million. This is while the museum is trying to reel in major gifts to fund the $450-million campus "transformation" campaign that's in the second of three planned phases, with about $134 million still to go.

On the positive side, LACMA was able to acquire new art valued at $42.8 million via purchases and donations, down slightly from $45.7 million the previous year. And attendance grew to 853,000 from 825,000, Pflaumer said. Maybe $12 general admission for a day looking at art -- and free for those 17 and under -- has its appeal in a rotten economy.

Click here for the full story.

-- Mike Boehm