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Heritage Institutions, 1999/2000

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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According to this article in Statistics Canada’s Daily, 1999/2000 was “one of the best years ever” for Canada’s heritage institutions. Museums, historic sites, archives, and other heritage organizations significantly expanded their memberships, attendance and earned revenues. In addition, government grants – especially from the federal level – were on the rise. The increase in earned revenues was so strong over the 1990s that the article notes that “the source of operating revenue for heritage institutions has shifted gradually from governments to the visiting public”.

Although not profiled in the free Daily article, the sub-category of art museums in the detailed tables will be of particular interest to arts readers. The 185 art galleries surveyed in 1999/2000 had total attendance of 6.1 million, up 13% from 1992/93. Art galleries saw their earned revenues increase by 89% over this time frame, while private sector contributions rose by 49%. Government grants increased by only 2.5% over the same period. Operating expenses rose by 25%, keeping pace with the 24% overall increase in operating revenues. There was a small decrease in full-time staff (4%) and a 7% increase in part-time staff. (None of the financial data is adjusted for the 11% inflation between 1992 and 1999.)

The most troubling statistic in the article is the significant decrease in the number of volunteers. Although indications from other volunteer studies are that fewer volunteers are donating more hours to non-profit organizations, this cannot be a healthy long-term situation. The drop in the number of volunteers was worse for art museums (-31%) than for any other type of heritage organization. This represents a loss of about 3,000 volunteers, from 9,700 in 1992/93 to 6,700 in 1999/2000. In comparison, community museums lost 29% of their volunteers, history museum volunteers decreased by only 2%, and the volunteer ranks of other museums grew by 5%.

So although the financial and attendance statistics appear fairly positive for art museums and other heritage institutions, there are definite issues in volunteer recruitment and retention.

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