AAM survey reveals US could lose one-third of all museums as a result of COVID-19

The American Alliance of Museums has released the findings of its national survey of COVID-19 impact on United States museums.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM), has revealed the findings of its recent survey of US museums, exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector. Over 750 museum directors responded to the survey during June 2020.

The results show that one in three museums across the US is at risk of permanent closure, due to the financial crisis following COVID-19 and the widespread closures. Without help from governments and private donors, hundreds of directors said that their organisations may not survive.

One-third of museums at risk of closure

The results represent a wide cross-section of the sector, with responses from museums of different sizes and disciplines from all around the country.

“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover,” says Laura Lott, President & CEO of AAM.

“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.”

As well as being an important resource for the communities they serve, museums in the US support 726,000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute $50 billion each year to the economy. While many are now reopening, more than 40% of these have had to reduce staff as well as spending extra money on new safety precautions.

Critical data

The survey was conducted free-of-charge for the museum field by Dynamic Benchmarking.

“This data is critical as the Alliance continues to advocate for the resources museums require to recover from the current financial crisis,“ says Lott. AAM advocates secured hundreds of millions of dollars for museums, and the Federal Paycheck Protection Program has served as a lifeline for many museums.

“However, with the funding running out, furloughs and layoffs will grow without additional financial support from the government or donors.”

The report also shows how some organisations will struggle to recover in the long-term:

  • 33% of those surveyed said there was a “significant risk” of permanent closure in the run-up to the autumn, or they “didn’t know” if they would survive.
  • 87% of museums have only 12 months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, with 56% having less than six months left to cover operations.
  • 75% of museums provided virtual educational programs and experiences to students, parents, and teachers while closed to the public
  • 64% of directors predicted cuts in education, programming, or other public services

Museums around the US are working to gain funding in order to help survive the COVID-19 crisis. “On average, museums receive less than 25% of their total funding from government sources,” adds Lott. “Money from public and private sources is crucial to saving the museum field.”

The full report is available here.

Earlier this year, AAM hosted its first-ever Virtual Annual Meeting, featuring expert keynote speakers, useful insights from across the sector and networking sessions for museum professionals.