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Originally published Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 6:01 PM

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Budget forces Seattle Art Museum to close for 2 weeks next year

Seattle Art Museum announced it is closing for two weeks next year, cutting staff and instituting a furlough in an effort to balance its budget.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Art Museum announced Wednesday it is closing its three principal buildings for two weeks next year, reducing its staff and instituting a two-week furlough in an effort to balance its budget.

Its downtown location, the Seattle Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park and the PACCAR Pavilion at Olympic Sculpture Park will be closed Jan. 31 to Feb. 13. The closure will coincide with the staff furloughs.

It's believed to be the first time the 77-year-old institution has closed its doors to the public for budget reasons.

The museum also said it has reduced its staff by 15 positions — about 7 percent of the staff — through attrition and layoffs.

In addition, several top administrators at SAM will take a one-year, 10 percent pay cut, and SAM Director Derrick Cartwright plans to take at least a 15 percent pay cut.

"We are taking steps to remedy a tough situation," Cartwright said. "I hope it will not impact the public."

The cuts are the latest in a series of measures the museum has taken over the past two years — including staff cuts and reduced hours — to try to bring down expenses.

The museum's goal is to achieve a balanced budget of $24.3 million this year.

Museum staff attribute this year's budget gap to a number of factors, including the recession, which has hit many arts institutions hard. Corporate and individual contributions are both down this year, said Cara Egan, spokeswoman for the museum. In addition, attendance is at about 76 percent of what staff had projected, she said.

The museum also faces an accumulated debt of $56 million dating back from when SAM and Washington Mutual partnered on a new downtown building they intended to share. After WaMu was sold to JPMorgan Chase in 2008, it left SAM holding the bag on eight floors of office space, at a cost of about $5.8 million a year.

Offsetting that is the $10 million over five years that JPMorgan Chase pledged to help pay off that debt. And last year, Nordstrom announced it would lease 75 percent of the empty space. SAM staff said the terms of the lease are confidential.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

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