With Majority Of Museums Laying Off Workers During The Pandemic, Recovery Will Take ‘Years’, Survey Reveals
The global pandemic clobbered museums, forcing more than half of all U.S. institutions to lay off staff. Even as exhibitions and timed admissions sell out amid a desire by vaccinated art lovers to return to the live experience, it will be “years” before any meaningful recovery, a survey released today shows.
Fifty-six percent of museums have furloughed or laid off staff since the global art world came to a screeching halt in March 2020, including 22 percent saying they laid off full-time workers, and 28 percent laying off part-time employees, according to the report by Arlington, Virginia-based American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the only organization representing the full breadth of the museum community.
Creative workers across industries have experienced massive financial setbacks, often life changing, over the last 14 months. Those who continue to work are hustling multiple gigs for lower pay, as wage reductions have a severe impact.
Seventeen percent of responding museums told AAM they slashed hours for full-time staff, 27 percent cut hours for part-time staff, and 14 percent whittled down pay and benefits for full-time staff.
At the time of the survey, museums reported that an average of 14 percent of staff remain furloughed.
Forty-six percent of museums said their staff size has shrunk since 2019, with an average reduction of 29 percent and nearly all cuts attributed to the adverse impact of the pandemic. Forty-four percent of total respondents plan to rehire or increase staff size in the coming year, 31 percent do not plan to do so, and 26 percent remain unsure.
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Sixteen percent of respondents had claimed the Employee Retention Tax Credit under the CARES Act encouraging businesses to keep employees on their payroll. The refundable tax credit is 50 percent of up to $10,000 in wages paid by an eligible employer whose business has been financially impacted by COVID-19.
AAM and Seattle-based Wilkening Consulting conducted the third iteration of a survey of 1,004 museum directors to assess the impacts of COVID-19 on the industry between April 6-30. The survey tracked metrics AAM began collecting in June 2020, as well as assessing the overall impact to museums’ financial condition in the past year. Museum directors responded to the AAM survey on behalf of their organizations, representing a broad geographic cross-section, by size and by discipline.
The bleeding of jobs was inevitable under the dire circumstances for arts and culture across the world.
More than three quarters (76 percent) of museums reported that their operating income tumbled an average of 40 percent in 2020 while they were forced to shutter for an average of 28 weeks. Museums have struggled to offset losses by trimming expenditures. Nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of institutions told AAM that their net operating performance tanked by an average of 38 percent.
Museums and galleries have made massive investments to keep audiences engaged with digital programs and exhibitions. Thankfully, about 85 percent of museum directors told AAM they now believe there is an insignificant risk of permanent closure in the next six months. Sadly, 15 percent (more than 5,000) of U.S. museums indicated there was a “significant risk of permanent closure” or they “didn’t know” if they would survive the next six months absent additional financial relief.
The fine and performing arts industries have been decimated during the pandemic, with estimated losses of nearly 1.4 million jobs and $42.5 billion in sales, according to “Lost art: Measuring COVID-19’s devastating impact on America’s creative economy,” a report released August 11, 2020, by the Brookings Institution, an American research group founded in 1916 on Think Tank Row in Washington, D.C.