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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

American museums facing Covid-19

New York. The Covid-19 crisis could profoundly transform the landscape of American museums. According to the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), a grouping of several thousand cultural establishments across the Atlantic, up to a third of museums may not reopen if the crisis continues. This represents approximately 11,000 locations, located "mainly in small and rural communities". "Most of the museums in the United States are very small structures. 49% of our members have teams of less than three people and 26% employ between four and ten, observes Laura Lott, president of the AAM. Small museums are more exposed to major economic turbulence than larger ones. "

With the temporary closings decreed since the start of the coronavirus crisis, the AAM estimates that cultural establishments are losing $ 33 million per day across the country. "There is no precedent in the United States," said Maxwell Anderson, former director of the Whitney Museum in New York and several other North American museums. According to him, one must go back to the closings of European museums during the Second World War to find a parallel.

According to the same expert, not all museums will be affected in the same way. The few federally-funded cultural institutions, such as the nineteen Smithsonian museums, as well as large private institutions and university-affiliated museums and galleries, will have the financial means to cope. But structures with an "annual budget of less than $ 20,000" are in danger.

In addition to the losses linked to closings resulting from containment measures, there is the risk of a drop in donations from sponsors due to the instability of the financial markets. "The majority of museums cannot rely on public funding. Generous donors can come forward, but these individuals are not inclined to take out their checkbook at this time, continues Maxwell Anderson. On average, 2 to 4% of museum revenues come from the sale of entrance tickets. The rest comes mainly from members and wealthy individuals who donate money. "

Faced with the situation, several representatives of the cultural sector and museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) have mobilized to ensure that museums benefit from part of the historic fund of $ 2.2 trillion provided for in the plan, stimulus adopted by Congress in late March. Some $ 200 million in funding has been allocated to the sector, which weighs 726,000 jobs and generates $ 12 billion in tax revenue. The actors of the sector demanded a global envelope of 4,000 billion dollars. "After the 2008 crisis, lawmakers saved Wall Street and the big auto companies. They had forgotten the nonprofit sector. This time, we mobilized like never before", however, welcomes Tim Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits.

In New York, the epicenter of the Covid-19 crisis in the United States, a $ 75 million fund created by eighteen foundations (Bloomberg Philanthropies, Ford, etc.) was set up to support non-cultural and artistic organizations. A similar fund was launched after September 11.

Pending receipt of the first aid, museums across the country are adapting. The Met said in an internal memo released by the New York Timesthat it expected losses of $ 100 million in the coming months and that it could not guarantee the payment of its 2,200 employees until May 2. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has laid off its part-time workers (97 people), which is half of its staff, while the New Museum in New York has put on leave 41 people, and the Whitney has dismissed 76 employees. Others have made cuts to wages, reduced hours, taken unpaid leave or early retirement. "The good news in all of this puts Tim Delaney into perspective, is that Americans realize the importance of art in their daily lives. "

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