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Monday Musing: Scrutinizing Nonprofit Status

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

Monday musings are my way of sharing “brain blorts”: brief, off-the-cuff thoughts about something I have read recently, both to help clarify my thinking an in the hopes of generating discussion and response. I give myself 15 minutes or so to jot down a summary of the article(s) stuck in my brain, and outline why I think they may be important.

Nicole Ivy drew my attention to this story from The New York Times yesterday:

Tax Status of Museums Questioned by Senators

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It reports that Senator Orrin Hatch (R Utah), chair of the Senate Finance Committee, sent letters to a handful of nonprofit museums founded by individual (living) collectors, “questioning whether the tax-exempt status they enjoy provides sufficient public benefit to justify what amounts to a government subsidy.” Recipients included the new Broad museum in LA, the Glenstone Museum Potomac, MD and the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

The NYT claims credit for instigating this inquiry with a story they ran earlier this year, examining how “public” some new nonprofit museums actually are. “Some of the galleries,” they noted, “severely limit public access, closing their doors to outsiders for several months at a time, shunning signs and advertisements, and requiring visitors to make advance reservations.

Those of you who have come to Museum Advocacy Day in the past may have caught one of my trends briefings on policy issues, in which I have repeatedly noted that a future in which the US reexamines tax exempt status–what it entails, who qualifies–is entirely within the Cone of Plausibility. Today’s musing puts this story on your radar as one more signal of this trend. 

Also, to offer a timely reminder that you can play a role in shaping the future of policy as well–through speaking up for museums. One way you can do that is to participate in Museums Advocacy Day (Feb 22-23)–registration is open now. I hope to see you there, and have some good discussions about the future of nonprofit status. 

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, (R-Utah)

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