Reps call for aid for nonprofit museums hit hard by the coronavirus crisis

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Photo: Charles Roussel / Courtesy of MoMA PS1


Several New York representatives called for a boost to the nonprofit museum industry as its funding streams dry up and its doors remained closed.

New York state representatives including Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) sent a request to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy Saturday for “at least” $4 billion in federal assistance to be included for the nonprofit museum industry in the next coronavirus recovery package.

The details of the stimulus package, which passed through the U.S. Senate early Wednesday morning, have yet to be released.  

New York museums voluntarily closed their doors in response to the growing pandemic on March 12. The Center for Disease Control urged gatherings of 50 or more people to cancel or postpone for the next two months on March 15. 

The next day President Donald J. Trump recommended that gatherings be kept to 10 people or less to help curb the growing numbers of transmission seen with the COVID-19 virus globally. 

Museums nationwide followed in suit and shuttered their doors indefinitely, despite 65 percent of their income flowing from patronage. 

With the closure of museums, which generate $5.4 billion per year in New York state alone and supports 61,000 jobs in the state, some museums expect to lose millions of dollars over the coming months, according to legislators.

The American Alliance of Museums expects that without “immediate” and “significant” assistance 30 percent of museums will be unable to re-open even after the pandemic has passed. 

A 2018 Oxford Economics report on the industry shows that it supports 726,000 jobs nationwide with 372,100 jobs directly in the industry. 

The American Alliance of Museums said that layoffs have started last week and there are concerns across the board in the industry of large-scale layoffs, with hourly and the lowest paid staff to potentially be hit the most. 

According to the request, The American Museum of Natural History estimates it will lose $60 million by June 2020 and the Metropolitan Museum of Art expects to lose $100 million in the coming months. 

The American Alliance of Museums said in a release last Thursday that nationwide, museums are losing at least $33 million per day due to closures related to COVID-19. 

Nearly all nonprofit museums rely on fundraising, charitable donations and earned revenue from museum exhibitions, educational programming, retail sales and venue rentals. 

“Museums cannot hold fundraising events for fear of transmitting the virus [COVID-19], and donors are understandably more hesitant to make charitable contributions given the economic uncertainty they face,” legislators wrote in their letter to their colleagues. 

The benefits of this bill goes beyond keeping jobs and adding to the economy.

“These cultural institutions show the world and all Americans that we value the arts and the humanities and that we know there is worth in showcasing creativity and learning from our past as we build toward our future,” Maloney said. “We must do all we can to save these remarkable institutions.” 

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