Is something rotten at the Glenbow Museum? Three years of budget cutbacks matched by unprecedented deficits seem to indicate a problem. Senior management says the museum’s financial issues are the result of “cataclysmic” global economic conditions. Former staff members say, “no,” the blame lies with “incompetent” directors.
The Glenbow’s financial records show that for years the museum ran with minor budget deficits or surpluses ranging from $2,000 to negative $41,000. Then, starting in 2009 and continuing in 2010 and 2011, the yearly deficits averaged $1.4 million. In those same years, paid attendance, fundraising and general revenues also dropped significantly. The museum’s board of directors tried to mitigate the losses by cutting spending by several hundred thousand dollars per year and approving extra withdrawals from the Glenbow’s Eric Harvie Endowment Fund, though these actions have scarcely covered the difference between cash flowing in and that flowing out.
Board chair Jack Thrasher says the museum has been hit with a series of problems over which it had no control.
“2008/2009 was a fairly cataclysmic year from an economic standpoint, as you recall, and so we dealt with trying to do what we could as far as trying to retain our programs and maintain our offerings to the public.... Just when it looked like the economic side of things were starting to be restored, the problems in Europe came on the screen,” says Thrasher. “And now you’re also facing challenges in the energy business from a commodity pricing standpoint... [And] we had an opportunity to host an exhibit called Terra Cotta Warriors,” he adds. Thrasher says that exhibition would have been “a tremendous opportunity to give us a boost,” but was cancelled at the last minute by the Chinese government.
Thrasher’s explanation runs contrary to staff allegations. Five current and former Glenbow staff members spoke on condition of anonymity with Fast Forward Weekly about working at the museum and what they believe is wrong.
One staff member, who left earlier this year, shared their letter of resignation with Fast Forward Weekly. In it, the employee cites a lack of “professionalism” in senior management and HR and accuses the museum of spending money that it doesn’t have, resulting in a poor financial situation, and calls out certain senior managers for being “incompetent.” The former employee writes that they could not, “in good conscience” continue to contribute to the operations of the museum.
Another former employee sent a letter of complaint to the board of directors, the receipt of which, they say, was never acknowledged.
“After 13 years of working under four different presidents, I could no longer support the immensely over-inflated ego, insecurity and immaturity of Glenbow’s senior-most executive,” it reads.
In regards to these complaints, Thrasher and treasurer Mike Robinson say the board has “received confidential documents.”
“I think they were all anonymous, and expressed as being confidential,” says Thrasher. “In a general sense, we review [a complaint] with the CEO and with the board.... I could tell you, on that basis I’m quite satisfied we dealt with them in the appropriate way.”
Those who spoke with Fast Forward Weekly roundly criticized museum president Kirstin Evenden, vice presidents and the board of directors for allegedly mismanaging operations and finances, ignoring staff concerns and allowing nepotism that, at the very least, makes many uncomfortable.
Evenden took over as president and CEO in 2009, the same year Glenbow finances took a disastrous turn. Since then, her husband and brother-in-law have been promoted to the positions of museum IT manager and new media coordinator, respectively. Also in that time, a significant number of long-term staff members resigned, including the manager of volunteer resources, who was there for 12 years, the senior manager of finance, who was there for 13, and the chief financial officer, who was there for 15 years.
Evenden says staff turnover at the Glenbow is on par with turnover at non-profit organizations across the province, based on statistics from the Boland Report — an annual survey of salaries and HR practices in the not-for-profit sector. She says the museum lost 12 employees out of roughly 100 between January and June of 2012, as it did in the same period last year. She also says senior employees are not leaving at a disproportionate rate, but rather “it’s a full range of positions that turn over on a regular basis.”
She says she is not aware of staff complaints and hasn’t been formally informed of complaints received through the organization, though the museum has initiated policies to encourage staff to “dialogue” with management about problems, and conducts annual employee satisfaction surveys.
Concerns about nepotism are baseless, she explains, because both her husband and brother-in-law were employed at the museum before she became the CEO, and she was not involved in the hiring or promotions processes that landed them in their current positions.
“A review of the procedure — the hiring — procedure was conducted by the board of governors,” she says. “Neither of these individuals have ever worked for me and I never hired them and I actually never worked with them in the museum.”
Evenden’s explanation for the museum’s woeful financial situation concurs with Thrasher and Robinson — the global economic crisis and the loss of the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibit compounded losses and forced the museum to run at a deficit for the time being.
Former Glenbow employees speaking with Fast Forward Weekly argue complaints were not anonymous and that staff have been asked to voluntarily cut back hours and wages while the salaries of the top three executives amounts to roughly $350,000. They also allege that fundraising efforts such as the PIVOT membership program cost far in excess of what they raise.
It remains to be seen what shape the Glenbow Museum will be in when the financial statements for the 2011/2012 fiscal year are made public. Evenden says that while they will not be made public until the annual general meeting in September, “what I can tell you is that last year we saw a 30 per cent growth in the overall fundraising revenues, the year-on-year from the year previous; and we had a 10 per cent increase in our membership.”