There have been several societal casualties due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From department stores to local restaurants, many businesses have disappeared over the past few months—and cultural institutions are in danger too. Even when the pandemic is over, the world may look alarmingly different in that area. A recent survey conducted by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) found that one-third of museum directors said they don’t know if their museum will survive COVID-19.
Out of the 760 museum directors the AAM polled, 33 percent said their institution was either at “significant risk” of closing permanently or that they were unsure whether they would make it through the pandemic. And these directors represent all types of cultural destinations, including aquariums, botanical gardens, science centers, nature centers, zoos, art museums, historical houses, and history museums, among others. Their answers paint a bleak picture of what to expect after coronavirus.
Some of these institutions went virtual at the beginning of quarantine, providing programming to interested patrons free or at a cost. But any revenue brought in through virtual programming can’t compete with ticket sales and other on-site purchases. Even the museums that survive the pandemic will have to undergo a significant shift in what they provide. An unfortunate 64 percent of museum directors anticipate having to cut back on public services, including education and other programming.
AAM President and CEO Laura Lott told NPR, “There’s a large public perception that museums rely on government support, when the reality is they get only a quarter of their funding from the government.” According to Lott, the majority of funding comes from the revenue made off ticket and gift shop sales, school visits, and various museum events, which of course, virtually disappeared as lockdown measures were introduced. The survey shows that more than half of institutions polled have less than six months of financial operating reserves left. And even the most renowned museums may not survive. In March, The New York Times reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art projected a “total shortfall of close to $100 million for the near future” in a letter sent to its department heads.
And there will be more than a cultural gap to fill in the post-pandemic absence of these museums. According to AAM, American museums draw in about 850 million visitors annually, support more than 726,000 American jobs, and contribute $50 billion to the U.S. economy each year.
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And while 84 percent of directors told the AAM that they planned to reopen sometime this month, only time will tell if they can make up enough of what they’ve lost in order to stick around.
To learn more about COVID changes, check out 7 Things You Won’t See at Retail Stores Ever Again After Coronavirus.