The Prince George's African American Museum and Cultural Center (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
The Prince George's African American Museum and Cultural Center (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

One out of three U.S. museums may not survive the year due to the financial crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey.

More than 750 museum directors in the survey reported funding sources and financial reserves running dry with a decline in assistance from the government and private donors, the survey conducted by the American Alliance of Museums.

“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover,” said Laura Lott, the alliance’s president and CEO. “Even with a partial reopening in the coming months, costs will outweigh revenue and there is no financial safety net for many museums.”

“The distress museums are facing will not happen in isolation. The permanent closure of 12,000 museums will be devastating for communities, economies, education systems, and our cultural history.”

The survey found that the vast majority (87%) of museums have only 12 months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, with 56% having less than six months left to cover operations.

Additionally, two-thirds (64%) of directors predicted cuts in education, programming or other public services due to significant budget shortfalls.

“On average, museums receive less than 25% of their total funding from government sources,” Lott said. “Money from public and private sources is crucial to saving the museum field.”

While many museums are in jeopardy of shuttering forever, local institutions are maintaining by pivoting in new ways amid the pandemic.

Jessica Hebron, interim executive director of Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center in North Brentwood, Md., said bringing their programming online has kept patrons engaged.

“With the onslaught of COVID-19, we have stepped into the world of virtual programming,” she said. “With most of our programs in-person and onsite, you would think that would cause a stir, but, in fact, thanks to the magic of social media, we’ve had more traction on our virtual programs.”

Hebron said the museum’s engagement online is more than the number of people they could have fit into their building.

“That has been really exciting for us. It has opened up a whole new world for us,” she said. “It’s encouraged us to create new virtual programs to keep our audience engaged and informed.”

Though many institutions have had to furlough workers or get rid of staff altogether, Hebron said the museum has been fortunate in that regard.

“The staff that we had before the pandemic is the same now,” she said. “We are proud to not have to furlough or let anyone go.”

Hebron said a big part of the museum being able to stay afloat has been the support of the community and its donors.

“I’m excited about the fact that people are still interested,” she said. “We had to close for just a second but that didn’t stop them from sending their love. We had a Juneteenth fundraiser where we not only reached our goal but exceeded our goal in 72 hours. People just kept donating.”

Hebron said that even with its recent fundraiser, the museum can always use more financial support from the community.

“We are a Black history museum, not only in the middle of a pandemic but a museum in the middle of a revolution,” she said. “COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to pause and reflect about how do we make sure our museum stays culturally relevant in these times.”

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Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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