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The Tenement Museum in New York’s Lower East Side. Reading Tom/Flickr.

New Survey Suggests 15 Percent of US Museums Could Close Permanently

In what today passes as optimistic news in a field ravaged by the pandemic, a poll of 1,004 US museum directors released yesterday revealed that 15 percent of them feared “significant risk of permanent closure” due to Covid-induced financial hardship or that they “didn’t know” if their institutions would survive the year absent additional economic assistance. The results of the survey—conducted last April by the firm Wilkening Consulting and sponsored by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM)—reflect the severe distress weathered by cultural institutions, but also suggest a decisive upturn since the AAM’s report last summer, which had predicted that some 12,000 US museums, or about one-third of those in the country, would be forced to shutter due to financial shortfalls tied to the pandemic.  

In a statement released on the AAM website, Laura Lott, the organization’s president and CEO, stressed the dire circumstances still faced by the nation’s art-collecting institutions. “The museum field will take years to recover to pre-pandemic levels of staffing, revenue, and community engagement,” she said. “Far fewer museums than expected are in danger of permanent closure thanks to several federal relief programs. However, average income sank 40 percent during the pandemic with museums predicting a slow financial recovery.”

The Museum of African American Art, which occupies the top floor of a Macy’s in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, has stayed closed throughout the pandemic, and is one among many smaller museums currently relying on donations and grants to stay afloat, NPR reported earlier this year. Uncertain working conditions have triggered a second wave of organizing efforts in museums nationwide; yesterday, the Whitney Museum of American Art voluntarily recognized its new union.

According to the survey data, more than three-quarters of museums saw their operating income decline by an average of 40 percent while being closed to the public. Nearly half of institutions lost 29 percent of their staff, on average. Of the directors surveyed, only 44 percent plan to hire or rehire in the coming year.

 

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