Opinion

Dire Forecast From Metropolitan Museum Suggests Closure Until July

The president of the American Alliance of Museums tells the New York Times, “This situation is by far more dire than anything I have experienced in my 25 years of being an arts finance professional.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (photo by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

In a troubling article that appeared this afternoon in the New York Times, reporter Robin Pogrebin has some nerve-wracking information about the Metropolitan Museum and its forecasts, as outlined in an official letter sent to the Met’s department heads today, March 18. The skinny? It’s very much in the hole as a result of the pandemic, and museum officials expect the recovery to begin in June, while they reopen in July. I know, I know.

I’ll give you the most shocking points from Pogrebin’s report (my comments in italics):

  • “… the Metropolitan Museum of Art is projecting a total shortfall of close to $100 million for the near future and expects to be closed until July … ” — This may well be the bellwether for other museums in the field. Many museums follow their lead, as we saw with their decision to close. Within days of their announcement, the rest of the city’s major museums announced similar measures.
  • “If even a behemoth like the Met — with an operating budget of $320 million and an endowment of $3.6 million [sic] — is anticipating such a steep financial hit, smaller institutions may not be able to survive at all.” — Exactly. (Though it looks like that’s a typo, it’s billion, not million. They’ve since fixed it.)
  • “About a third of museums surveyed in the United States were operating in the red or close to it before coronavirus, [Laura Lott, president and chief executive of the American Alliance of Museums] added; three-quarters have now closed and one-third will not reopen if the crisis continues. ‘This situation is by far more dire than anything I have experienced in my 25 years of being an arts finance professional,’ she said.” — Anyone long observing the museum field knows that most museums have been suffering for a while, but these numbers are still shocking to read.
  • “The Tenement Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side … has laid off 13 employees, which amounts to a 20 percent reduction in staff.” — The first of many, perhaps?
  • “The Met, preparing for its own financial hardship, has developed a three-phase response: having all staff members work from home and continue to be paid through April 4 as the museum evaluates possible furloughs, layoffs and voluntary retirements; from April to July, evaluating how to control spending and reduce operating costs, including freezing discretionary expenditures and hiring; and from July to October, ‘reopening with a reduced program and lower cost structure that anticipates lower attendance for at least the next year due to reduced global and domestic tourism and spending,’ according to the letter.” — Oof.
  • Lastly, “The museum made these plans based on information it has received from ‘the epidemiological world,’ [Daniel Weiss, Met president and chief executive] said — namely, that the pandemic is likely to reach its peak in early May, so recovery is unlikely to begin until at least the middle of June.” — How are most businesses and nonprofits going to weather this? *Gulp*

I think I’m not the only person a little numb after reading that. This isn’t going well, is it? Stay tuned.

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