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Damien Hirst Laid off Over 60 People Last Year Despite Collecting £15m in COVID Loans

First sparked by the cancellation of his Beijing retrospective.

Back in October 2020, Damien Hirst laid off 63 workers from his Dudbridge studio, despite collecting £15m GBP in government COVID-19 aid.

The dismissals began after the British artist’s major retrospective at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Art was cancelled. Soon after, the layoffs transpired after a series of meetings took place with staff over a two-month period starting on May 5, 2020 — not long after the UK’s first lockdown. During the consultations, members of the law firm, Joseph Hage Aaronson were in attendance to try and alleviate the number of dismissals caused by the pandemic. UK law states that a collective consultation is necessary if any firm or group is to dismiss 20 or more employees within a three month window.

Subsequently, many of the staff on the 3D and painting teams in Dudbridge were let go, as were the health and cleaning staff. To determine who would keep their jobs, the crew were scored on a “matrix” system, that consisted of a series of tests, such as who was most proficient across Adobe, attendance records, first aid-training and more. According to Science (UK), the firm that produces Hirst’s art, these tests were in line with their business needs, such as top management functions like who was able to produce and restore formaldehyde and resin works.

Around the same time as the first layoffs took place, staff were dependent on the UK furlough system that had been desperately put into place. In an attempt to help employers keep their staff, the government would initially pay 80% of the wages of staff that could not work up to a monthly cutoff of £2,500 GBP. Hirst bought into the furlough scheme, however, staff were told that this system was still costing the company money and that too much work had dried up for them to come back regardless. Former staff have come out to say that similar job postings for the work they once did were seen not long after their removal. They have since been taken down.

One such employee who was let go in October took to popular job site, Indeed.com, to state “During my three years there were multiple rounds of redundancies to remove staff. These positions were largely re-staffed within a matter of months. The business is effectively run by lawyers, and staff are treated as disposable. If job security, dignity and being appreciated at work are important to you, Science may not be a good fit.”

Damien Hirst’s Science (UK) firm currently owns over £42m GBP of unsold work, while his own art collection, Prints and Editions (formerly, ‘Muderme’) is worth £183m GBP.

Also in the news, MoMA PS1 returns to announce its 2021 “Greater New York” artist list.

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