The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has released findings from the latest iteration of an annual survey assessing the current state of museums in the United States. Over 300 museum directors responded to this AAM survey on their organizations’ behalf, representing a broad cross-section of the field in geography, size, and discipline.
The survey, conducted by AAM and Wilkening Consulting and fielded in March and April of this year, tracked key metrics the Alliance began to collect in June 2020 to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on museums, as well as other topics of concern for the museum field.
“While the museum field is making strides in its recovery efforts, it will take years to fully rebound to pre-pandemic levels of staffing, revenue, and attendance,” said Brooke Leonard, Interim CEO and Chief of Staff in announcing the survey results. “The findings from this year’s survey also demonstrate the importance of our field’s advocacy efforts, with up to eighty-eight percent of respondents who received federal relief funding programs citing them as critical to helping their museums survive the pandemic.”
While museums continue to recover from the profound damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, recovery is inconsistent across the field:
One-third of responding museums have rebounded to pre-pandemic attendance levels. Two-thirds continue to experience reduced attendance, averaging 71% of their pre-pandemic attendance.
88% of respondents who received a Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loan cited it as being very important to helping their institution survive the pandemic or that they probably would not have survived without it.
Financial recovery from the damage of the pandemic has been inconsistent, with 30% of museums seeing decreases in net operating performance, 39% experiencing increases, and 31% seeing no change.
Looking forward, 46% of respondents project their bottom line will increase this year compared to 2022, 16% expect decreases in their bottom line, and 38% expect no change.
26% of responding museums have not recovered to their pre-pandemic staffing levels. Of museums recruiting for job openings, 60% report trouble filling open positions, primarily among front-line roles.
Many museums are changing staff compensation packages and working conditions, including half of respondents who have shrunk the gap between their institution’s highest and lowest salaries and 50% implementing new initiatives to enhance staff wellness.
Since 2019, 11% of museums have automated some processes or tasks formerly performed by staff. Within the next year, an additional 15% intend to automate some tasks performed by staff, showing an increasing trend in automation.
The survey also highlights the importance of museum advocacy. Billions of dollars of federal relief funding secured during the height of the pandemic proved critical for many museums, and for some, it saved their institution from closing altogether.