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Museum Field Experiencing Compounding Financial Losses, New Survey Reveals

Category: Press Release

For Immediate Release

Arlington, VA—The American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the only organization representing the entire scope of the museum community, today released the findings from new survey data documenting the compounding financial damage caused to the field in 2021.

“The museum field will take years to recover to pre-pandemic levels of staffing, revenue, and attendance,” said Laura Lott, AAM President and CEO. “Far fewer museums than expected are in danger of permanent closure and tens of thousands of jobs were saved thanks to several federal relief programs. However, 2021 proved to be another painful year in which operating income sank further and attendance was down nearly 40 percent for many of our nation’s museums.”

Over 700 museum directors responded to the new AAM survey on behalf of their organizations, representing a broad cross-section of the field in geography, size, and discipline. The survey, conducted by AAM and Wilkening Consulting and fielded December 8, 2021-January 20, 2022, tracked key metrics the Alliance began to collect in June 2020 and assessed the overall impact on museums’ financial condition in the past year.

The results of this survey document profound damage inflicted on US museums by the pandemic as well as indications about recovery and challenges on the horizon:

  • Since March 2020, on average, museums were closed to the public for 28 weeks due to the pandemic. At the time of this survey, 12 percent of museums were still closed to the public. Museums that are open are experiencing an average of 62 percent of their normal, pre-pandemic, attendance and one-quarter are limited to a 30 percent capacity.

  • 60 percent of respondents report experiencing pandemic-related financial losses since March 2020, with the average losses being a little over $791,000. Sixty percent of responding museums have budgets of $1 million or less.

  • In 2020, 61 percent of museum directors report that their net operating performance decreased by an average of 38 percent. Twenty-seven percent of museum directors indicated that their net operating performance experienced further decreases in 2021, by an average of 33 percent.

  • In April of 2021, only 44 percent of museums had reported that they did not furlough or lay off any staff since the start of the pandemic. As of this survey, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of responding museums report that they have been able to retain or restore all of their staff. Government funding proved vital to this effort, with museums indicating that federal relief funds helped them to retain staff. Of museums recruiting for job openings, 56 percent report they are having trouble filling open positions.

  • In an effort to address the negative impacts of the pandemic on museum professionals (see the Alliance’s April 2021 report on the impact of COVID-19 on people in the museum field), respondents to the latest survey indicate that they have made or will make changes to their staffing, compensation, and benefits. 49 percent of respondents plan to increase the hourly rate of lowest-paid employees and 15 percent plan to shrink the gap between lowest and highest salaries.

  • Over the past two years, museums also reached out in new ways to support needs in their communities. Thirty-nine percent of respondents intend to maintain facilities or programs they created to support online learning or schooling based in the museum, and 18 percent intend to maintain initiatives such as food banks or wellness programs, they created to meet other community needs.

“Despite the tremendous financial and psychological stress caused by the pandemic, museum professionals are filling the gaps to meet the needs of their communities,” said Lott. “They are demonstrating the critical role museums play in our country’s infrastructure and deepening their social impact in their communities.”

Read the full report.

About the American Alliance of Museums

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) is the only organization representing the entire museum field, from art and history museums to science centers and zoos. Since 1906, AAM has been championing museums through advocacy and providing museum professionals with the resources, knowledge, inspiration, and connections they need to move the field forward.

AAM’s Alliance of 35,000 museums and museum professionals seeks to better our communities, and our world, through collaborative human-centered experiences, education, and connection to histories, cultures, the natural world, and one another. For more information, visit


Press Contact:

Natanya Khashan
Director, Marketing & Communications

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