Laid off museum worker struggles to find job in tough economy

The legions of the recently unemployed include plenty of veteran staffers from arts and cultural organizations. One laid-off museum curator talked with KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez about how she's struggling to bounce back in this economy.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Late last year, it looked as if financial troubles would lead the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles to shut its doors. That didn't happen.

But a couple of weeks ago the museum laid off 35-year-old curatorial assistant Corrina Peipon and 31 other employees to save more than $4 million in expenses. Peipon says it was hard to leave an institution she loved.

Corrina Peipon: On some level of course, the sadness was there, about leaving these colleagues and not being part of this curatorial team, and not being part of the programs that MOCA presents anymore, but at the same time there was a sense of relief that at least something was being done to save the museum.

Guzman-Lopez: The bookshelves in her rented bungalow west of Downtown L.A. remind her of the four-and-a-half years she spent at one of the contemporary art scene's top museums.

Peipon: This is a catalogue that's called This is Not To Be Looked At: Highlights From the Permanent Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Guzman-Lopez: She wrote five artists' profiles in that book and 27 in MOCA's catalogue of a feminist art exhibition last year.

Peipon: Contributing to the scholarship in that book really felt like an honor because now I know that other young women who are working as artists will be able to find information about these people that for me even a few years ago was still so hard to find.

Guzman-Lopez: Her layoff notice arrived just as MOCA curators gave her more opportunities to show what she could do. Now she spends her days chasing job leads on the computer and the phone, walking in Elysian Park, doing yoga, cooking with friends, and sprucing up her home.

Peipon: I've made curtains and shades and everything for all the rest of the house, but I still haven't finished that room, that's the next room to get its curtains done. Things like that I've been working on. I like to do a lot of sewing and things like that.

Guzman-Lopez: This week though, Peipon's inner accountant elbowed aside the domestic goddess. Her student debt is $100,000 fat, her savings account is thin, contemporary art jobs are few and far between, and her severance payout ends in less than two months.

Peipon: That's when I'm really going to freak out. It's taken a while for all of this to sink in and I had my first bit of panic last night, and I think that was related to the fact that I did have my first interview lined up for today as well.

Guzman-Lopez: She interviewed for two-and-a-half hours at a Southern California museum. It went well. But the people on the other side of the table displayed poker faces, she said, so she has no clue whether she'll land the job.

Peipon's layoff has pushed her into a massive club that gains more members every day. It's a far cry from the often insular contemporary art world she navigated at MOCA.

Peipon: Strangely enough this really makes me feel connected with the rest of the world in a way that I maybe don't normally.

Guzman-Lopez: Corrina Peipon believes that arts and culture is a key industry that deserves a federal government bailout.

Peipon: People who are involved in the arts provide such an incredible service to us all through their expressions of our times.

Guzman-Lopez: The stereotype of the starving artist is very true these days, she said. That's one reason she hopes that somehow, when the economic crisis is over, American society will hold its arts and cultural workers in higher regard.