News from the cultural sector has not been hope-inspiring as of late — mass layoffs and furloughs continue to plague US institutions, with reopening dates in some states increasingly uncertain as the virus continues to spread. The latest survey to measure COVID-19’s impact on the industry, conducted by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), does not augur well for museums: a third of them — a total of 12,000 organizations — may never reopen.
This finding was based on a survey of 760 museum directors, which reflects the period from June 8 through June 30. The study reports “extreme financial distress” in the field museum field, confirming early predictions that virus-related closures would have devastating effects on institutions. Nearly 90% of museums have only 12 months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, it found, with 56% having less than six months left to cover operations. Out of the respondents, 33% were not confident they could survive 16 months without additional financial support, while 16% felt their organization was at “significant risk of permanent closure.”
Nearly half of museum directors said they had furloughed or laid off some portion of their staff. Of the museums that will be able to reopen, more than 40% will do so with a reduced staff and incurring additional expenses to ensure a safe environment for visitors. Two-thirds of respondents also foresee cuts in education, programming, or other public services.
“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover,” Laura Lott, president and CEO of AAM, said 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,” she added.
Lott also notes that museums receive less than 25% of their total funding from government sources on average. Increases in federal, state, and local allocations, as well as private funding, could be crucial to saving thousands of institutions in the months to come.