At Large  March 27, 2020  Peggy Carouthers

Museum Industry Lobbies for Bailout amid Coronavirus Shutdown

Photo by Tomas Eidsvold on Unsplash

A typical busy day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

On March 25, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the hotly contested $2 trillion stimulus plan, which includes provisions for arts organizations and museums, and the House of Representatives is expected to pass the bipartisan bill Friday. The move, however, is a bittersweet response for art and museum institutions, as funding levels are still far from what is needed to bail out museums suffering from COVID-19-related shutdowns.

Though GOP lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, have often slashed public funding for the arts in national budgets, the COVID-19 bailout package does allot more than $232 million in funding for arts organizations and museums, with $25 million going to the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing arts in Washington, D.C. and $7.5 million going to the Smithsonian Institution. Additionally, $50 million is slated for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities will each receive $75 million. All three organizations will distribute those funds to eligible arts organizations, museums, and libraries across the nation.

Photo by Michael on Unsplash

The U.S. Capitol Building

These funds come as welcome relief to cultural institutions struggling amid a wide array of social distancing and “shelter-in-place” orders across the nation; however, $232 million falls far short of the $4 billion bailout the American Alliance of Museums and other arts-focused institutions requested of congress in order to help museums survive. Over the past few weeks, members of arts groups were urged to contact members of Congress, while some museums used their fan bases to spread news of lobbying efforts via social media, such as through the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s #CongressSaveCulture Campaign.

The American Alliance of Museums said in its letter to Congress that the financial situation of museums across the country is dire, as they are losing at least $33 million per day due to museum closures. A representative from the American Alliance of Museums stated in a New York Times interview that one-third of American museums surveyed were already in financial trouble prior to COVID-19-related closures, and three-quarters of those museums are now closed. If closures continue, it is projected one-third won’t reopen. 

Though large portions of museum budgets often come from private donations, a significant portion comes from visitors. The Association of Art Museum and Directors’ most recent “Art Museums By the Numbers” report states that the average museum earns about 25 percent of its revenue from on-site activities, such as admission, events, and museum store and restaurant sales. But as more people stay home, these major funding sources are drying up, especially as special exhibitions—a prime source of many museums’ annual funding—go largely unattended.

wikimedia commons WolfmanSF

The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Take, for example, the Frida Kahlo exhibition scheduled to open at San Francisco’s de Young Museum on March 21. Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, the parent organization which operates the city’s de Young and Legion of Honor museums, told reporters at The San Francisco Chronicle that the show was expected to drive 15 percent of the organization's total 2020 revenue. However, now that the museum doors are closed due to the city and state of California’s “shelter-in-place” orders, the organization estimates it will lose $9 million from that exhibition alone if museums can’t reopen before June—an increasingly likely scenario given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state. 

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports the Met in New York expects to be closed until July and has projected losses amounting to $100 million due to the shut down, forcing the museum to consider furloughs, layoffs, and voluntary retirements. Some other museums have already laid off portions of their staff. 

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that 5.1 million jobs were associated with arts and culture in 2017. Without increases in funding, it is likely that the industry will face wide-scale layoffs. 

Photo by Alicia Steels on Unsplash

Crowds gather at the Mona Lisa

Despite grim projections news, museums and other arts institutions are working to find relief through other sources of funding. New York City’s COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund will provide financial aid for nonprofits facing coronavirus-related difficulties through loans and grants. Similarly, San Francisco has announced it will distribute $2.5 million to artists, art teachers, and cultural organizations through grants and low-interest loans as part of its Arts Relief Program, along with an additional $1 million of funding provided by the Arts Loan Fund of Northern California Grantmakers. Boston’s Artist Relief Fund will award grants of up to $2,000 to local artists and to support access to the arts and art events.

Though these small measures provide a bit of support to these institutions, every day of closure increases the difficulties facing the art institutions. As the nation faces the uncertainty of how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, it is unclear what its impacts will be on museums. But one thing is certain—there is no business as usual. Art museums, among myriad other industries impacted by shutdowns and the economic downturn, will have to find creative ways to adapt and survive.

About the Author

Peggy Carouthers

Peggy Carouthers is a writer, editor, and custom content manager based in California. She enjoys creative writing and learning about art and literature. She is passionate about connecting companies with audiences.

Subscribe to our free e-letter!


Latest News

Denver Art Museum Showcases the Politics of Korean Ceramics
Uncovering the Multilayered History Behind Buncheong
Orlando Museum of Art’s Ongoing Lawsuit For Basquiat Forgeries

It seems that the Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) still finds itself…

Art and Object Marketplace - A Curated Art Marketplace