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State of the Nation’s Art Museums

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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Given a weak American economy and reduced tourism, 2002 was not a great year for art museums in the US. In fact, a survey of 128 American art museums by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) shows that over half the art museums (59%) reported a decrease in their revenues during the year. Widespread decreases were reported in endowment, government, earned and corporate support. The AAMD survey reports that:

  • nearly 80% of museums reported a decline in endowment income;
  • half of museums saw a decrease in government funding;
  • nearly half saw a decrease in earned income; and
  • more than 40% experienced a drop in corporate support.

An increase in individual support was reported by 48% of the art museums.

Despite these financial challenges, art museums were largely able to preserve their programming, staffing and attendance levels. To do this, marketing efforts were increased: 40% of the art museums “reported an increase in regional marketing, reflecting an emphasis on serving as cultural, educational, and economic resources in their communities”. Other strategies favoured by art museums include seeking out new major donors, building endowments, cutting spending, and increasing board contributions. Strategies largely rejected by survey respondents include reducing staffing levels and reducing public services, programs or access.

The AAMD survey concludes that “museums, like all institutions in both the non-profit and for-profit sector, are facing very serious financial challenges and difficult management decisions…. The trends this survey reveals – active support from the public and careful fiscal planning by the museum community – argue for the important role that art museums play in the life of the country and the value of sustaining the national commitment to these institutions.”

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