Sunday, November 29, 2020

Our Museums are in Trouble

If you have been reading my Missives, I must assume that you have interest in the art world.  I recently read a very disturbing article in the Artnet News about the struggle that museums are going through.  Already at the beginning of last April there was a headline saying that the pandemic had already cost American arts organizations 4.5 billion dollars.

Quite a number of museums are in dire straits and could very well close for good if they do not get financial aid. In fact, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) predicts that 12.5% of all museums will be closing permanently.  The AAM, the American Alliance of Museums (formerly known as the American Association of Museums) did an international survey of 850 institutions.  Having lost 35% of their operating budget this year, they expect to lose another 28% in 2021.

I do not think we have to worry about the survival of museums like the Metropolitan since they have donors with very deep pockets, still, a loss of 150 million dollars for their 150th  Anniversary year gives one pause.

The Metropolitan Museum, Photo by Cindy Ord

According to UNESCO the number of museums in the last 8 years has grown by 60%. There are not only closures because of COVID, there will be  increasingly limited public funds for the arts, so many of these newer and/or smaller institutions will not survive.

Coupled with COVID restrictions is the decline in tourism affecting attendance income even when museums reopen. But here is a statistic I would not have thought of, -- replacing galas with virtual events, which two-thirds of museums have done, had a revenue shortfall of 34%.

The Prado Museum in Madrid

The American Alliance of Museums has been around since 1906 bringing museums together and developing standards and best practices.  As you might have read, together with the American Association of Museum Directors  (AAMD),  The AAM has relaxed its rules on deaccessioning.  Formerly they would only allow the sale of works of art in order to upgrade the collection, but never for operating expenses.  On April 15, 2020, The Center for Art Law reported, “Due to COVID-19, the AAMD announced that museum’s will not be censured, sanctioned, suspended, or expelled as they usually would. The AAMD reported that the museum’s good faith use of deaccessioning proceeds to pay for “direct care” of the museum’s collections is permitted.”

In the case of one British institution, the Royal Opera House in London, a painting by David Hockney consigned to Christies yielded them £13 million.  It turned out that the unannounced buyer was David Rose, billionaire co-founder of British cellphone retailer Carphone Warehouse and Chair of the Opera House’s Board of Directors, and it will return to the Royal Opera House on long term loan!  Granted that art collection does not represent an opera house’s primary function, but would that museum deaccessions would have such a happy result!

David Hockney's Portrait of Sir David Webster, 1971

After reading the various reports I gave something to all our local museums as well as a few other institutions.  I do hope you will follow suit!

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