Museum  July 23, 2020  Chandra Noyes

Survey: One-Third of American Museums May Close

Photo by Nicole Baster on Unsplash

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) released the findings of a new survey this week that has grim implications for America’s museums. One-third of those surveyed were not confident that their institutions would be able to survive another sixteen months without additional financial relief, and 16 percent felt their organization was at significant risk of permanent closure. The 760 responding museum directors represent a wide swath of museums, from small historic homes and children’s museums to major art, history, and science institutions. Though diverse in location, mission, and funding, they all have one thing in common: COVID-19 closures have gravely affected their bottom line.

“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover,” said Laura Lott, President & CEO of AAM, in a statement. “Even with a partial reopening in the coming months, costs will outweigh revenue and there is no financial safety net for many museums. The distress museums are facing will not happen in isolation. The permanent closure of 12,000 museums will be devastating for communities, economies, education systems, and our cultural history.”

Photo by Lizzie George on Unsplash

Many museums rely largely on funds from admissions and public events to pay staff and keep their doors open. As the coronavirus began shuttering businesses across the world in March, museums, which often contain large crowds, were no exception. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the nation’s grandest and busiest art museums, predicted a revenue loss of $100 million dollars as a result of being closed during their busiest tourist season. Like nearly half of the institutions surveyed, they have instituted a combination of layoffs and furloughs for their staff in order to save money. The Met recently announced plans to reopen at the end of August, though it has yet to be seen if city and state health officials will allow it.

Museums and art institutions around the country and across the globe have lobbied for government funds to help keep them afloat. In America, many have already benefitted from Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to keep staff on, many of whom have adapted their roles for museums’ new, amplified online presence. The European Union recently approved massive funding to bail out the arts, which many have hailed as a lifeline. As Europe has better managed their panademic response, museums have begun to reopen, often at half capacity to ensure social distancing.

Photo by Terry Browning on Unsplash

According to the AAM survey, the vast majority (87 percent) of museums have only twelve months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, with 56 percent having less than six months left to cover operations. As reopening plans and the future, in general, remain uncertain, the likelihood of museums recouping their losses in the next six months looks unlikely. 

The potential closure of institutions that preserve and interpret our history at such a dramatic moment in time is doubly troubling. As the country is struggling to understand and reconcile our history and we are undergoing unprecedented changes in our daily lives, we need museums to document, preserve, and help us understand our history now more than ever.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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