The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been under a particularly unforgiving spotlight recently, due to Met staffers speaking out about a “deeply rooted logic of white supremacy and culture of systemic racism” and structural critiques of the institution’s exhibitions themselves. Additionally, the Met has been forced to greatly enhance its digital media offerings in light of the coronavirus, and has done so partially via the MetLiveArts performance program; MetLiveArts has been producing a series of streaming online events for the fall that viewers can access from home. Recently, however, AV staffers at the Met divulged to Observer that the MetLiveArts department has been outsourcing their technical support staff for an this upcoming run of live-streamed performances, thereby depriving in-house staffers of work and billable hours.
According to a full-time employee at the museum who wished to remain anonymous, staff are angered by the rollout of the new series of MetLiveArts programming, which was made possible by a $5 million pledge by the philanthropist Adrienne Arsht. “There’s all this new programming that LiveArts is pushing with this $5 million donation that they just received, and it’s really demoralizing for a lot of employees at the museum that almost 200 people were laid off or furloughed,” the employee said. “The outsourced company is apparently doing the live streaming and camera work; [the Met] apparently is now having some camera operator positions being handled by in-house,” they continued, explaining “the vast majority of work that is outsourced could be done by museum staff.”
Additionally, the full-time employee divulged that many camera operators and audio technicians who work for the museum have been asked to do manual labor within the institution. “LiveArts will take people with these very specialized skill sets; we’re talking audio mixers, video engineers, lighting technicians, people who’ve done major events, and they’ll be asked to push 300 pound boxes,” he said. “People have sustained workplace injuries. It’s a situation where highly specialized technicians are being used for grunt labor while [the museum is] paying an outside company more money.”
A part-time AV specialist at the Met who also wished to remain nameless told Observer that the types of performances that MetLiveArts is currently launching are well within the skillsets of regularly called-upon museum employees. “If this was a big opera production that required two weeks of setting up lights and projectors, setting up speakers and microphones and building a stage, I would understand why some of the labor needs to be outsourced,” they said. “I was told this set of performances is just one dancer and a singer at a time performing in a gallery space. My theory is MetLiveArts hired outside people for this because they’re not directly accustomed to booking and managing the AV crew. It was always done by one of the production managers, and they’re clearly not using one of the museum’s production managers to facilitate this performance,” they said.
“The Met has an outstanding team of internal technical production staff who have been working on this production,” a museum spokesperson told Observer in a statement. “The Met occasionally brings in outside companies to provide and operate specialized equipment to support highly complex events like this current series of performances.”