Art Market

One third of U.S. museums may close permanently due to COVID-19, according to a new survey.

Daria Simone Harper
Jul 23, 2020 4:31PM, via American Alliance of Museums

The Annenberg Space for Photography, which announced it would be closing permanently in June. Image via Flickr.

A new survey by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has found that one out of every three museums in the United States may close permanently due to the economic fallout from COVID-19. That would represent some 12,000 institutions shuttering permanently. The survey data was collected throughout the month of June from more than 750 museum directors and confirms a similar projection the AAM made when they reported to Congress that up to 30 percent of museums could shutter without immediate governmental aid.

Laura Lott, president and CEO of AAM, said in a press release:

Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover. 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.

According to AAM, museums hire some 726,000 direct and indirect employees and contribute $50 billion to the economy every year. Thirty-three percent of the museum directors surveyed said there was a “significant risk” of permanently shuttering by next fall, or that they “didn’t know” if they would survive the crisis. The results also indicate that an overwhelming majority of museums—87 percent—have 12 months or less remaining in their financial operating reserves, and that 56 percent have less than six months left to cover operations.

Directors from a wide range of institutions were surveyed, from art and history museums to arboretums and aquariums. Sixty-four percent of museum directors predicted cuts in areas like education and programming as a result of sizable budget cuts during the pandemic. The survey also found that 75 percent of museums have provided virtual educational programming and curricula to students, parents, and teachers during the pandemic. Lott said in a statement quoted by The Art Newspaper: “The bright spot is that museums leapt into action in March and found ways to deliver on their mission.”

The new study—the full results of which are available online—was conducted by a New Hampshire polling firm, Dynamic Benchmarking, at no cost to the AAM.

Further Reading: How Three Very Different Museums Are Dealing with the COVID-19 Crisis

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Daria Simone Harper