One-third of US museums may shutter, new survey finds

One-third of US museums may shutter, new survey finds
Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Rob Young.

One out of every three museums may shutter without further assistance from the government and funders, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) warned Wednesday.

According to a new report released by the Alliance, 16% of museums in the United States that responded to a June survey indicated they believed “there is a significant risk” their institution will close permanently in the next 16 months without additional financial intervention.

A total of 750 museum directors participated in the study, which questioned organizations about how the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent closures have affected operations, staffing and financial outlooks.

“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover,” said Laura Lott, president and 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 report contextualized the findings by stating that museums provide 726,000 “direct and indirect” jobs, with an economic contribution of $50 billion per year.

“The distress museums are facing will not happen in isolation,” Lott said. “The permanent closure of 12,000 museums will be devastating for communities, economies, education systems and our cultural history.”

The survey summary notes that while “lifeline” funds, like the Paycheck Protection Program, have offered much-needed relief, a vast majority of responding institutions indicated dwindling resources. Over half of the participants answered their financial operating reserves will cover less than six months, with 87% replying they have enough for 12 months or less.

“On average, museums receive less than 25% of their total funding from government sources,” Lott said, explaining the need for advocacy for new funding on federal, state and local levels. “Money from public and private sources is crucial to saving the museum field.”

Though 407 institutions responded with dates of when they plan to reopen, the chart toward this reality remains murky for museums in New York City. Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo halted plans for cultural institutions to begin opening indoor spaces as part of the city’s emergence into Phase 4 of the governor’s recovery plan, The New York Times reported.

When museums do reopen, 41% said they would do so with reduced staff, with cuts expected to hit education, programming and other public service initiatives for 64% of responding museums as a result of declined budget and staff resources.

“This data is critical as the Alliance continues to advocate for the resources museums require to recover from the current financial crisis,“ Lott said. “With the funding running out, furloughs and layoffs will grow without additional financial support from the government or donors.”

Top Image: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Rob Young.