As museums around the US remain closed because of the coronavirus epidemic, institutions are already feeling the hit. Perhaps more important than the lost revenue from visitors is that from fundraisers, which according to a report by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) on average makes up more than one third of a museum’s budget. Many such events that were planned for the spring have been cancelled or postponed, leaving museums unsure about how they will make up the deficit.
Famously, the Met Gala is the main fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute—the museum’s department dedicated to fashion, with holdings of more than 33,000 objects. Since 1948, the gala has taken place on the first Monday of May and in recent years it has become a star-studded event, raising $15m for the Costume Institute in 2019. Because of the coronavirus threat, this year’s gala “will not take place on the date scheduled”, according to Anna Wintour, the chair of the event and the editor of Vogue. With so much still uncertain about the scale of the epidemic in New York, a spokesperson for the museum declined to comment on the gala beyond noting that “all events [are] cancelled until 15 May. As we work closely with New York City and health officials to develop plans for this extraordinarily challenging scenario, we are further advising that there is a strong likelihood that the Museum will remain closed until 1 July.”
The Gordon Parks Foundation—an organisation which, in addition to preserving the legacy of the photographer, provides scholarships for high school and college students and has grant initiatives that support the practice of emerging and established artists—has had to postpone their major fundraising gala until mid-October. “Last year’s gala raised approximately $1.3m, and this represents nearly 100% of the annual funding for our year-round educational and grant-making programmes,” says Peter Kunhardt, Jr, the executive director of the foundation. Kunhardt noted that the foundation is “anticipating potential shifts to our programming cycles to align with the cycle of funding,” while emphasising that the “national and global crisis is not at the point where anyone can confidently make concrete plans about the next year of operations”.
The Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas also postponed their two annual fundraisers—the Nasher Prize Gala, which was honouring the 2020 laureate Michael Rakowitz, and their annual educational fundraiser, The Great Create, both originally scheduled for April. The Prize Gala has been moved to November and a date for the educational fundraiser has yet to be announced. “While delaying these events certainly changes budgets for the time being,” says Jeremy Strick, the museum’s director, “we are confident that, through the continued generosity of patrons and friends, we will be able to raise the projected goals for both.
The New York Academy of Art had to cancel their Tribeca Ball, which “typically raises well over $800,000” for the school, says Angharad Coates, the academy’s director of communication. This year’s honoree at the event would have been Eric Fischl, and in an effort to offset the lost funds, they are selling a limited edition of prints by Fischl, in addition to other efforts including offering studio visits to the academy’s patrons with high profile artists that will take place after the epidemic ends.
Amidst the uncertainty, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)—the independent federal agency that has supported the arts across the US since its founding in 1965—is doing what it can to accommodate groups that have applied for grants and suddenly find their programmes in limbo. “Because Arts Endowment funding is project-based and the arts field has experienced significant venue closures and programme cancellations, the agency is offering its grantees flexibility in managing their NEA-funded project,” said a spokesperson for the NEA. “This includes the options of changing the scope of a project, extending project timelines, or closing out the award early.” In other words, grantees will keep their funds, but have more options on how they can use them.
The AAM has written to Congress, urging it to include at least $4bn for museums as part of its coronavirus economic relief package as well as asking for a temporary charitable deduction to urge taxpayers to make gifts to museums this year, since this is also “expected to decline in the months ahead”, according to the organisation. “Nationwide, our museums are losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of Covid-19,” adds a spokesperson for the alliance. But the pending relief bill only includes $75m to be disbursed by the National Endowment for the Arts, $75m by the National Endowment for the Humanities, $50m by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and $7m by the Smithsonian Institution, which oversees 19 museums and nine research centres.
The AAM’s letter notes that museums are important not only because of their cultural impact, but for the significant economic role they play. It notes that national museums “contribute $50 billion a year to the US economy and generate $12bn in tax revenue to local, state, and federal governments. Museums also are vital local sources of employment, supporting 726,000 jobs annually,” the AAM reports. “The destabilizing effects of the current crisis place the future of these contributions to the US economy and education system at great risk.” In its letter the AAM continues, saying: “We estimate as many as 30% of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not reopen without significant and immediate emergency financial assistance.”