Just How Bad Is the Lockdown for Museums? A New Study of 650 Institutions Around the World Surveys the Wreckage

Some museums are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per week.

With museums around the world still shuttered indefinitely, the financial fallout for institutions remains to be seen. But now, a new survey from the Network of European Museum Organizations offers an up-close glimpse at how museums are coping with the closures, and what the effects on their operations have been.

The survey is still open through April 17, but the first round of responses, from 650 museums in Europe—including every nation in the EU—as well as the US, the Philippines, Malaysia, French Polynesia, and Iran, has already been illuminating. Some of the biggest museums that attract the most tourists have seen 75–80 percent of their income disappear overnight.

Of those institutions that provided figures about income loss, 70 percent are losing more than €1,000 every week the closures continue. At the top end are the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna and the Stedelijk Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which say they are losing hundreds of thousands of Euros every week. Private museums are also especially hard hit, with many reporting that they will lose their entire budget during closures, which may become permanent.

Almost every museum that participated in the survey was currently closed, with only a handful of exceptions in Sweden, Austria, and Albania. Many were unsure when they might reopen, with estimates ranging from mid-April to as late as September.

The Basel Kunstmuseum. Photo by Wladyslaw Sojka courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Basel Kunstmuseum. Photo by Wladyslaw Sojka, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The biggest impact seems to be on international exhibitions, which are being canceled as international loans fall through. Thus far, 70 percent museums have avoided laying off staff, but freelance workers haven’t been so lucky; about twice as many institutions are putting their contracts on hold. And longterm infrastructure projects are being widely paused as uncertainty over budgets and financial prospects grow.

The one sector that’s growing, of course, is museums’ online presence. Sixty percent of respondents have been stepping up their digital game, and 40 percent have seen online traffic go up, some by as much as 500 percent.

The survey includes a call to action, in the hopes that lawmakers will help museums survive these troubled times. “We urge governments to invest in Europe’s cultural heritage in the future, to support what binds us together, while so many other things drive us apart,” read a statement from the Network of European Museum Organizations.

MAXXI Museum, (2014). Courtesy of Antonella Profeta and Flickr.

MAXXI Museum (2014). Courtesy of Antonella Profeta and Flickr.

Other museum groups have been pushing for government relief as well, such as the American Alliance of Museums and New York’s Metropolitan Museum Art, which last month called for a $4 billion infusion for the cultural sector. (It got less than five percent of that.)

Now, Italian museum leaders are taking up the cause, calling for the establishment of a “national fund for culture,” the Art Newspaper reports. More than 2,000 signatories, including the heads of National Museum of 21st Century Art in Rome and Venice’s civic museums, have put their name to a Change.org petition that insists that “we have to make Italian culture live, to give it oxygen… [or] the repercussions… on the vast world of cultural enterprise are extreme and could be fatal.”

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