The Alliance closely tracks several legislative and policy issues affecting museums—including funding for grant-making federal agencies, tax incentives for charitable giving and education policy. See the Issue Briefs (PDFs) and related information below for a detailed look at these priorities and how policymakers can advance them.
Policy Issues at a Glance
Museums play a key role in education, job creation, tourism, economic development, historic preservation, environmental conservation, and advancing scientific literacy and global competitiveness. Museums have strong public support: a 2017 national public opinion poll shows that 95% 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, historic sites, history museums, maritime museums, military museums, natural history museums, planetariums, presidential libraries, public gardens, science centers, and zoos—has worked together to develop this federal policy agenda.
Issue: Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Office of Museum Services Funding
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is the primary federal agency responsible for helping museums connect people to information and ideas. Its Office of Museum Services (OMS) awards grants to museums to support educating students, preserving and digitizing collections, and engaging communities. Grants are awarded in every state, but current funding has allowed the agency to fund only a small fraction of the highly-rated grant applications it receives. IMLS has been regularly reauthorized by Congress with broad support, most recently in 2010 with a funding authorization of $38.6 million for the Office of Museum Services. IMLS received $240 million in FY 2018 appropriations, of which just $34.7 million went to the Office of Museum Services.
- We support funding of at least $38.6 million in FY 2019 for the IMLS Office of Museum Services.
Issue: Institute of Museum and Library Services Reauthorization
Issue: Charitable Giving
Charitable giving is the lifeblood of museums of all sizes and disciplines; it accounts for more than one-third of their operating funds. We support efforts to extend and expand incentives for charitable giving. Limitations on these incentives could have a chilling effect on the ability of museums to attract donations needed to serve their communities and protect their collections.
- We urge Congress to enact a universal charitable deduction so that all Americans can deduct their donations to charity, regardless of whether or not they itemize their taxes. We oppose proposals to restrict the deductibility of gifts of property, as well as proposals to weaken current tax law provisions protecting nonprofit nonpartisanship. We support allowing artists to deduct the fair market value of donated works, as specified in the Artist-Museum Partnership Act.
Issue: Economy and Jobs
Each year, museums directly contribute $21 billion to the national economy, employ more than 400,000 Americans, and bolster a large tourism industry in local communities. Museums and other cultural organizations return over five times more in tax revenue than they receive in government funding. Unfortunately, in 2009, Congress excluded zoos and aquariums from competing for any funds made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and only narrowly avoided excluding all museums and other cultural institutions as well. In 2013, the federal government shutdown forced federally operated museums to close their doors for 16 days. These actions by Congress ignore the economic impact of museums in communities nationwide.
- We urge Congress to amend the Anti-Deficiency Act to allow for the continuity of public access to our nation’s public lands and federally operated museums in the event of a funding gap.
- We oppose any effort to restrict the ability of zoos, aquariums or any other type of museum to compete for federal funding.
- We urge Congress to enact the CREATE Act (S. 661 and H.R. 1649) to support artists and entrepreneurs while bolstering the creative economy.
Issue: Elementary and Secondary Education
Museums are key education providers, educating students, providing professional development to teachers, and helping teach the local curriculum. The recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the “Every Student Succeeds Act”) provides states with significantly more flexibility in setting and meeting performance targets, which could make it easier for schools to work with museums.
- We support efforts to promote school-museum partnerships (including museum schools), require greater collaboration between the US Department of Education and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, support funding for 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 curriculum.
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 was only able to fund 16 percent of the proposals it received in 2016. It also provides annual grants to state humanities councils in every state and U.S. territory. NEH received $152.8 million in FY 2018 appropriations.
- We urge Congress to provide at least $155 million for NEH in FY 2019.
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 U.S. territories. NEA also distributes roughly forty percent of its grant funds to state arts agencies for re-granting. NEA received $152.8 million in FY 2018 appropriations.
- We urge Congress to provide at least $155 million for NEA in FY 2019.
Issue: Higher Education
Median earnings for adults with a bachelor’s degree are approximately 64 percent higher than those with just 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. The average member of the Class of 2015 with student loans owed approximately $34,000 at graduation.
- We support efforts to improve the affordability and accessibility of higher education for all students.
- We urge Congress to preserve the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF) and sufficient income-driven repayment options for federal student loans.
Issue: STEM Education
Millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds learn about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) each year by visiting museums, science centers, public gardens, zoos, and aquariums. The National Science Foundation (NSF) supports these efforts through numerous grants and directorates, including the Directorate for Education and Human Resources’ Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program. AISL supports research, development, infrastructure, and capacity building for STEM learning outside formal school settings. Programs at other science-related agencies—including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Institutes of Health (NIH)—are also critical to helping museums attract, inspire, and educate the current and future STEM workforce. The FY 2018 appropriations legislation provided $62.5 million for AISL and continued funding for the NASA, NOAA and NIH programs in which museums participate.
- We urge Congress to fully restore funding for the AISL program to $65 million—the FY 2010 funding level—and to continue to support informal STEM programs at NASA, NOAA, and NIH.
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, 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. The FY 2018 appropriations provided $48.9 million to State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs), $11.5 million to Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs), and $500,000 for grants to underserved communities—all through the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). It also provided an additional $13 million from the HPF to document, interpret, and preserve the stories and sites associated with the Civil Rights movement. Save America’s Treasures (SAT) received $13 million in FY 2018 through the HPF, a $8 million increase. Preserve America has not been funded since FY 2010.
- We urge Congress to support FY 2019 funding of at least $55 million for SHPOs, $15 million for THPOs, $25 million for civil rights sites, to restore funding of $30 million for Save America’s Treasures and $4.6 million for Preserve America, and to continue to support the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit.
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 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.
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 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.
Ethics and Best Practices for 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.
There are several other issues that AAM cares deeply about. Learn more about some of these additional issues.