Policy Issues

Policy Issues at a Glance

Museums—a large majority of which are 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations—play a key role in education, job creation, tourism, economic development, historic preservation, environmental conservation, and advancing scientific literacy and global competitiveness. Museums are essential community infrastructure and have strong public support: a 2017 national public opinion poll, Museums and Public Opinion, showed that 96% of voters would approve of lawmakers who acted to support museums and 96% want federal funding for museums to be maintained or increased. The museum community—which includes aquariums, art museums, children’s museums, culturally-specific museums, historic sites, history museums, maritime museums, military museums, natural history museums, planetariums, presidential libraries, public gardens, railway museums, science centers, and zoos—has worked together to develop this federal policy agenda.

Download the Legislative Agenda: Issues at a Glance printable PDF or review the section below to explore each issue. 

Issue: Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Office of Museum Services Funding

Despite its small size, the IMLS Office of Museum Services is the largest dedicated source of investment in our nation’s museums. OMS leadership and vital financial support is more important than ever to museums of every type, large and small, urban and rural, across our country. OMS provides museums essential help to navigate change and continue to improve their services to better enable them to champion lifelong learning, strengthen community engagement and advance collections stewardship and access to our nation’s cultural heritage. Grants are awarded in every state, but current funding has allowed the agency to fund much less than half of the highly rated grant applications it receives. Congress has regularly reauthorized IMLS with broad bipartisan support, most recently in 2018. OMS has set a strong record of congressional support during the appropriations submission process in each of the last several years, with 113 Representatives and 41 Senators signing the FY 2024 appropriations letters on its behalf. In FY 2023, Congress provided $295 million to IMLS, of which $55.5 million was directed to the Office of Museum Services. With this funding, OMS provided 317 grants totaling $53 million to museums and related organizations in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

We urge Congress to:

  • provide at least $55.5 million for FY 2024 (level with current FY 2023) and at least $65.5 million for FY 2025 funding for the IMLS Office of Museum Services, a much needed increase accounting for inflation and public need for museum services.

» The full issue brief is available on the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Office of Museum Services Funding page or as an IMLS Office of Museum Services Funding printable PDF

Issue: Tax Policy

Contributions to 501(c)(3) charities such as museums are tax-deductible, incentivizing those who itemize deductions to give more. A large majority of museums are 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organizations. Charitable giving accounts for more than one-third of museums’ operating funds. Only about ten percent of taxpayers now itemize deductions, however, and both the amount given and the number of donors were declining prior to the pandemic. Smaller gifts increased during the pandemic due to the enactment of the temporary deduction for non-itemizers.

We ask members of the House and Senate to:

  • include a universal charitable deduction, i.e., a deduction for non-itemizers, in any forthcoming tax package. We also urge members of Congress to cosponsor the Charitable Act (S. 566/H.R. 3435), which would renew and expand the charitable tax deduction for non-itemizers. The deduction allowed taxpayers to deduct up to $300 ($600 for couples) for charitable gifts during the pandemic, but it expired at the end of 2021, leading to a marked drop in small donations.

» The full issue brief is available on the Tax Policy page or as a Tax Policy printable PDF

Issue: Earmarks (House of Representatives only)

Last year a small group of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives forced their then-leadership to name museums as ineligible for Community Project Funding (also known as earmarks) in Appropriations Committee guidance. This deprives museums of needed support and is in direct opposition to the 96 percent of Americans who favor funding support for museums. Museum earmarks serve critical needs in communities including K-12 education, improvements to energy-efficiency, and increasing tourism and economic development – projects that support communities’ health and vitality. Museums should be allowed to compete on their own merits, at they always have.

We urge the House to:

  • lift the unreasonable and unfair ban that makes museums ineligible for House Community Project Funding (also known as earmarks) in the annual appropriations process.

» The full issue brief is available as a House Earmarks printable PDF.

Issue: National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) provides direct grants to museums, universities, archives, and libraries in support of research, education, and preservation. Due to high demand and extremely limited funding, NEH is only able to fund a small percentage of the proposals it receives. The agency also provides annual grants (approximately 40% of its annual budget) to state humanities councils in every state and US territory. NEH received $207 million in FY 2023 appropriations.

  • We urge Congress to provide at least $207 million for the NEH for FY 2024, level with FY 2023, and robust funding for FY 2025.

» The full issue brief is available on the National Endowment for the Humanities page or as an National Endowment for the Humanities printable PDF.

Issue: National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) works to bring the arts to every community in America, including rural areas, military bases, and urban centers. It provides grants to all types of arts organizations—including museums—to exhibit, preserve, and interpret visual materials. The agency’s federal role is uniquely valuable: no other funder, public or private, funds the arts in every state and the US territories. The NEA also distributes roughly 40% of its grant funds to state arts agencies for re-granting. NEA received $207 million in FY 2023 appropriations.

  • We urge Congress to provide at least $207 million for the NEA for FY 2024, level with FY 2023, and robust funding for FY 2025.

» The full issue brief is available on the National Endowment for the Arts page or as an National Endowment for the Arts printable PDF

Issue: Elementary and Secondary Education

Museums are significant education providers, educating students, providing professional development to teachers, and helping teach local curricula, especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Museum education programs help bridge the digital divide. Strong civic education is essential to the future of our constitutional democracy. AAM is an active member of the CivXNow Coalition and supports legislative efforts to invest in K-12 civic education. Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the “Every Student Succeeds Act”) provides states with significantly more flexibility in setting and meeting performance goals, which could make it easier for schools to work with museums.

  • We urge members of Congress to support and cosponsor the Civics Secures Democracy (CSD) Act (S. 4384/H.R.1814), which would create grants for states and districts to support and expand access to U.S. history and civics to meet the needs of today’s students and our constitutional democracy.
  • We support efforts to promote school-museum partnerships (including museum schools), require greater collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, fully fund federal education programs in which museums participate, and fully implement the “well-rounded education” provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which include the many subject areas in which museums help teach the curricula.

» The full issue brief is available on the Elementary and Secondary Education page or as an Elementary and Secondary Education printable PDF

Issue: Higher Education

Median earnings for adults with a bachelor’s degree are approximately 60% higher than those with a high school diploma, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, student loan balances constitute the largest source of debt for American households. While many museum jobs require bachelor’s or even advanced degrees, nonprofit museum professionals often do not earn as much as they might in the private sector. Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a vital tool in allowing talented and highly trained employees from all socioeconomic backgrounds to work at organizations that make an impact in their community. In addition, many museums benefit from Higher Education Act (HEA) program funding.

  • We support legislation that ensures Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is accessible and achievable. We support efforts to improve the affordability and accessibility of higher education for all students. We also ask that Congress support funding for HEA programs in which museums participate, such as Title VI International and Foreign Language Education.

» The full issue brief is available on the Higher Education page or as a Higher Education printable PDF

Issue: Lifelong STEM Engagement

As museums are key community infrastructure, ensuring Americans’ lifelong engagement in STEM and contributing to America’s leadership in scientific research, we urge Congress to provide robust funding for a variety of programs that support lifelong STEM education and public engagement and research around many of the most important and urgent scientific issues. In particular, we ask Congress to:

  • fully fund and authorize museums to participate in STEM engagement and informal STEM education programs across Federal science agencies;
  • include opportunities for public engagement as part of agency research programs with significant public interest and ensure that museums are eligible to compete for related awards;
  • regard museums and other institutions engaged in informal STEM education as vital components of the STEM education ecosystem;
  • fund the following programs at levels that exceed inflation-adjusted levels from recent years: NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program at $75 million, NOAA’s Office of Education at $38 million, NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement at $150 million and Science Mission Directorate’s Science Engagement and Partnerships Division at $48 million, and NIH’s Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program at $25 million; and
  • ensure that museums have the opportunity to compete for funds related to facilities improvement to address areas including public health, sustainability, and energy efficiency, including opportunities available to schools and other educational institutions.

» The full issue brief is available on the Lifelong STEM Engagement page or as a Lifelong STEM Engagement printable PDF.

Issue: Historic Preservation

In addition to preserving and protecting more than 1 billion objects, many museums are historic themselves, and their collections are critical to telling our collective national story. Historic sites and historic preservation efforts not only protect our national heritage, but they are also economic engines and job creators in the thousands of communities they serve. Minimal government funding helps to leverage significant private support, often through the Historic Tax Credit. In FY 2023 an omnibus spending bill outlined appropriations for the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) with a record-setting overall funding level of over $204 million, $62.15 million of which was allocated to State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) and $23 million to Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs). Competitive grant programs received funding as follows: Save America’s Treasures (SAT): $26.5 million, African American Civil Rights: $24 million, Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization grant program: $12.5 million, Historically Black Colleges/Universities: $11 million, Semiquincentennial celebration grants: $10 million, History of Equal Rights grants: $5 million, Underrepresented Community grants: $1.25 million.

We urge Congress to:

  • support the permanent reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF), and increase the authorization to no less than $250 million annually; support FY 2025 funding of at least $70 million for State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) and at least $34 million for Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs); provide at least the following amounts for competitive grant programs under the HPF: $40 million for Save America’s Treasures, $28 million for African American Civil Rights, $17 million for Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization grants for the rehabilitation of historic properties and economic development of rural communities, $13 million for Historically Black Colleges/Universities, $11 million for U.S. Semiquincentennial celebration grants for our nation’s 250th commemoration, $7 million for Equal Rights grants, $5 million for Underrepresented Community grants; and support the Historic Tax Credit by cosponsoring the Historic Tax Credit Growth and Opportunity Act. Include museums in, and provide robust funding for, programs for federal agencies tasked with carrying out America 250 programming and commemorations in the FY 2025 appropriations process.

» The full issue brief is available on the Historic Preservation page or as a Historic Preservation printable PDF

Issue: Climate Action and Museums

Museums can help advance carbon neutrality and respond to the impacts of climate change. Museums are considered one of the most trustworthy sources of information in America, and as such are excellent entry points for climate conversations, both community-oriented and internal. As educational institutions, museums are valuable engines for understanding environment and climate issues. They have a distinct ability to engage the public and the media with data, images, and context for knowledge-building. Museums are research hubs and have contributed to climate change research across a variety of areas. Museums are valuable pilot sites for experimental technologies through operations and exhibits. Museums are essential community infrastructure and local partners for achieving environmental sustainability goals. They are connected to their fellow nonprofits, educational systems, and local businesses, and can model green practices to inspire and collaborate with their communities to help reach desired outcomes.

We urge Congress to:

  • Increase funding for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Sec. 40541 Energy Efficiency Materials Pilot Program for Nonprofits also known as “Renew America’s Nonprofits”— a $50 million pilot program to award grants for energy-efficiency materials upgrades to buildings owned and operated by 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, including museums.
  • Increase funding for other museum eligible grant programs, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Climate Smart Program, and to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) specifically to support climate change work in museums, including facility adaptations and resiliency work, as well as exhibits and programs.
  • Include museums as named community partners and as eligible nonprofit organizations in legislation for energy and climate funding opportunities and education initiatives.

» The full issue brief is available on the Climate Action and Museums page or as a Climate Action and Museums printable PDF

Issue: Public Diplomacy and the Protection of Cultural Property

As welcoming and trusted community anchors, museums are perfectly positioned to help build cross-cultural relationships, which are enhanced by collections that span the world across centuries. In recent years, irreplaceable cultural property has been lost in places like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Mali, and Afghanistan. Protecting this property—both directly and by working through international organizations—is a vital part of United States diplomacy, showing the respect of the United States for other cultures and the common heritage of humanity. American museums and the conservation professionals who work with them are some of the world’s best at protecting and caring for cultural property.

  • We urge Congress to pursue measures that protect cultural property around the world, and to consider museums and conservation professionals as part of the solution to these issues. We expect the United States Government to comply with international law and urge the U.S. Government to maintain its commitment to its longstanding practice of not targeting cultural sites during peace or wartime.

» Learn more on the Public Diplomacy and the Protection of Cultural Property page, including supporting letters and testimony. 

Issue: Shutdown Prevention and Economic Impact

Government shutdowns occur with some frequency; there have been 20 of them since 1976. During the 16-day shutdown in October 2013, hundreds of museums nationwide—as well as national parks, forests, monuments, and historic sites—were forced to close their doors. This prevented the public from enjoying artworks, historic treasures, and lands that are intended to be held in the public trust. The economic impact of these closures was devastating, not just for the entities themselves, but for many businesses that rely on the tourism they generate. The damage from the 35-day 2018-2019 partial government shutdown—the longest in US history—was enormous and cost the government a total of $11 billion. The Smithsonian lost an estimated $3.4 million in revenue and the National parks lost more than $10 million in revenue.

  • We urge Congress to amend the Anti-Deficiency Act to allow for the continuity of operations and public access to our nation’s public lands and federally operated museums in the event of a funding gap.

» The full issue brief is available on the Shutdown Prevention and Economic Impact page or as a Shutdown Prevention and Economic Impact printable PDF

Issue: The Multinational Species Conservation Funds and Wildlife Conservation

In addition to educating the public about wildlife, accredited zoos and aquariums also protect species in their collections and across their natural habitats. The Multinational Species Conservation Funds (MSCF) are targeted investments in global priority species such as African and Asian elephants, tigers, rhinos, great apes, tortoises, freshwater turtles, and marine turtles. The MSCF program helps to sustain wildlife populations by combating poaching, reducing human-wildlife conflict, and protecting essential habitats globally. Despite its modest funding level, this program has a significant impact because it consistently leverages almost a 2 to 1 match of federal dollars from partner governments, local NGOs, international conservation organizations, and private businesses.

  • The museum community, including botanical gardens, strongly supports efforts to protect native wildlife, including declining pollinator populations.

Background: Museums and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic inflicted considerable damage on US museums, a large majority of which are 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organizations. While the museum field is making strides in its recovery efforts, it will take years to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels of staffing, revenue, and attendance. Survey data shows two-thirds of museums continue to experience reduced attendance, averaging 71% of their pre-pandemic attendance. Despite the tremendous financial and psychological stress caused by the pandemic, museum professionals filled the gaps to meet the needs of their communities. They continue to demonstrate the critical role museums play in our country’s infrastructure and deepen their impact in their communities.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, museums across the country continued contributing to the ongoing education of our country’s children by providing lesson plans, online learning opportunities, and drop-off learning kits to teachers and families. They used their outdoor spaces to grow and donate produce to area food banks, and maintained these spaces for individuals to safely relax, enjoy nature, and recover from the mental health impacts of social isolation. They provided access to childcare and meals to families of health care workers and first responders, donated their PPE and scientific equipment to fight COVID-19, and served as vaccination centers.

Other Issues

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion

Museums are trusted, vibrant community centers, attracting diverse audiences and providing lifelong learning. The museum community takes pride in maintaining the public trust by caring for important collections, documenting the human story, and bearing witness to history. Museums embrace diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion and strive to make their programs and collections accessible to all audiences. They value federal, state, and local policies that recognize, maintain, and support diversity in all forms.

» Learn more about this issue or access a Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion printable PDF.

Ethics and Best Practices in Museums

For hundreds of years, museums have held objects in the public trust. Today, American museums preserve and protect more than a billion objects. Sometimes they face questions related to: historic artifacts; ownership; Nazi-era assets; sacred objects; human remains; the loan, sale or donation of objects; or their diligence in probing the history of such objects. The museum field takes these concerns very seriously. Since 1925, the museum field has been actively working to ensure that museums adhere to rigorous ethical standards. The American museum community is committed to continually identifying and achieving the highest standard of legal and ethical policies and practices. In October of 2022, AAM announced a multi-year initiative to transform the standards that guide best practices and accreditation for museums. New requirements will focus on including diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) practices that are critical for the future vitality and sustainability of the museum field and essential to meet the evolving needs of the public, and a revised AAM Code of Ethics.

» Learn more about this issue or access an Ethics and Best Practices in Museums printable PDF.

There are several other issues that AAM cares deeply about. Learn more about some of these additional issues.

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