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Trends and Futures in the Economic Condition of Museums

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Today AAM released its second annual report on the economic state of America’s museums, U.S. Museums Continue to Serve Despite Stress. The report is based on a survey of AAM institutional members.

Some of the news is bad:

  • More than half the museums in the survey (53%) saw their revenues shrink in 2010 (while just 28% saw an increase). Government funding took the worst hit, down at 52% of museums and up at just 12%.
  • 71% of museums reported economic stress at their institutions ranging from moderate (39%) to severe (14%) or very severe (18%) – with very severe stress defined as “the very worst I have seen in at least 5 years.” In the 2009 survey, 67% of museums reported economic stress.
  • Museums are relying on drastic measures to respond to economic challenges, like hiring freezes (at 35% of responding museums) and deferring maintenance (30%).

Some of the news is good:

  • Fully half of the museums that responded to the survey indicated some increase in attendance in 2010, with a significant increased (at least 5%) at 32% of museums.
  • More than three-quarters of the museums maintained (51%) or expanded (27%) services to K-12 students and teachers in 2010.
  • And they managed to hold the line on admission prices (the average adult general admission ticket is still around $7, if museums charge any admission).

For futurists, the most interesting thing in the report is the trends spotted by museum leaders that are likely to affect the economic condition of museums in years to come. Not all of these can be confirmed by the hard numbers in the AAM report, but they could be the signs of future trouble:

  • The challenge of attracting potential donors to governing boards
  • A decline in local property values = a reduction in local tax revenues (“We were not hit too badly this past year but are expecting a delayed impact in the next couple of years as property tax income is expected to decline.”)
  • A trend away from public support for higher education (and primary ed, too!)
  • Regional declines in specific industries that have traditionally supported local museums.
  • And a shift in philanthropic focus from arts, culture and education to “social services, environment and other causes.”
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Are these just temporary blips in a time of recession? Or permanent alterations to the landscape of museum funding? Are there other trends that museums need to track? Let us know!

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