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With New Museums Opening Rapidly, Old Institutions Must Turn Tactical to Compete for Funding

Category: Financial Sustainability
An image of a red brick building. The lights are on inside and there are silhouetted figures walking by on the sidewalk.
The facade of the new Minnesota Museum of American Art. Credit VJAA

This article examines the various ways museums across the United States are contending with an increasingly competitive private funding landscape; the consequence of rapid growth in the museum sector over the past thirty years.

“You see time and time again that costs go up faster than revenues, and leadership responds by using endowments and reserves to cover structural deficits”expenses that are greater than contributed income (annual funds, major gifts, memberships and grants). If not corrected, this starts a downward spiral that makes the future unclear for these institutions, creating “a challenge to leadership, especially when board members, executive directors, founders and supporters have a very strong belief in their mission and don’t want anything to change.”

– David Ellis, museum consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Building a new museum to honor, commemorate or simply exhibit something that seemingly hasn't received any or enough attention always sounds like a good idea. Perhaps that's why we hear about a new institution on what feels like a weekly basis.

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