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Ontario’s Museums: 2014 Profile

September 28, 201628 September 2016

Museums and heritage organizations

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This aggregate profile of 184 Ontario museums “identifies the realities of operating museums in Ontario today” and provides “compelling evidence to demonstrate museum impacts and their economic, social and cultural contributions to Ontario’s communities”. The 184 Ontario museums responded to a survey designed and conducted by the Ontario Museum Association (OMA) in 2014-2015, and the survey results were analyzed by Hill Strategies Research Inc.

The 184 respondents represent 35% of the 533 museums, art galleries, and historic/heritage sites in Ontario, based on the Government of Canada Survey of Heritage Institutions. The OMA survey delves into much greater depth about museum activities and public engagement than the broader Government of Canada survey (also reviewed in this issue of the Arts Research Monitor). Responses were received from museums in all regions of Ontario, and respondents did not have to be OMA members to respond (although 83% of respondents were indeed OMA members).

The analysis indicates that there were 4.7 million visitors to 146 museums reporting visitor data in 2014, including 3.2 million paid and 1.5 million unpaid visitors. Eighty-five museums were able to estimate the provenance of their visitors. In these museums, 55% of visitors are from the museums’ local areas, and another 26% come from elsewhere in Ontario (for a total of 81% coming from within Ontario). “The remaining visitors come from other areas of Canada (9%) or from other countries (10%).”

Regarding admission fees, the report notes that “just over one-half of the museums (56%) charge an admission fee. On the other hand, admission is free in 22% of the responding museums. The remaining 23% of museums accept donations”. Respondents were asked about free access times in their museums, and the results show that 88% of the responding museums provide free access to the public at least during select times.

Ontario museums undertake substantial educational activities, including receiving 572,800 student visits (based on the 123 museums that reported student attendance). About three-quarters of museums (77%) align their educational programming with Ontario’s curriculum.

Almost all respondents (95%) own or manage a permanent collection. In fact, 52% of responding museums have over 10,000 objects in their collections. These large collections are not always on display: one-half of responding museums indicated that they typically display 20% or less of their collections during the year. In addition, “responding museums indicated that, typically, about two-thirds of their collections are stored in areas that museum representatives ‘consider to be adequate (i.e. in secure premises with appropriate environmental conditions)’”, leaving about one-third of collections stored in areas that are considered inadequate.

Regarding human resources in Ontario museums, “the survey results show that 78% of responding museums have at least one paid full-time staff member, and 78% have at least one paid part-time staff member”. For 157 museums reporting volunteer engagement levels, the 13,000 volunteers contributed over 777,000 hours in 2014. The report values this volunteer contribution at $13.6 million.

A breakdown of the $292 million in total revenues in 2014/15 shows that the largest share of operating revenues comes from government funding (57% of total revenues), followed by earned revenues (26%), private sector fundraising (12%), and other revenue sources (5%). After excluding the four largest museums reporting to the survey, the report notes that one-half of total revenues (exactly 50%) comes from municipalities. However, municipal funding levels vary substantially by size of museum and region of the province. On the expenditure side, the $285 million in total expenses is dominated by staff expenses (49% of the total).

Regarding museum facilities, 60% of Ontario’s museums own at least one of their facilities. About two-thirds of the facilities managed by Ontario museums (68%) were built more than 75 years ago. The analysis shows that “a substantial minority of museum facilities are designated heritage facilities (43%) and/or on a heritage registry (42%).”

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