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Kindness not Commerce

A recent survey shows that the average art museum counts on donors and the government to survive. Source: Getty Museum.

Mike Boehm, ‘Report shows art museums rely mainly on kindness, not commerce’ , LA Times, 9 January 2015

A new survey of North American art museums’ attendance and financial information confirms once more that if they had to operate like for-profit businesses and rely on a paying public, they almost certainly would be sunk.

To make ends meet, the average art museum counted overwhelmingly on the kindness of donors, government largess and, if it was lucky enough to have an ample one, returns on its endowment, according to responses the Association of Art Museum Directors gathered from 220 of its 236 member museums.

The AAMD issued the findings this week in a brief report called “Art Museums by the Numbers 2014,” based on responses from 204 museums in the United States and 16 in Canada and Mexico that provided figures for their most recently completed fiscal year.

The average art museum in North America saw 279,351 visitors pass through its doors in a year, with total attendance coming to more than 67 million.

But they weren’t able – or inclined – to reach deeply into the pockets of all that foot traffic. When it came to earning money by selling admission tickets, parking spaces, refreshments and gift shop merchandise to visitors, or by renting facilities, the survey results suggest that art museums simply are not in step with the capitalist imperative.

Only 27% of the money that museums took in was earned in those ways. For the rest they depended on private donations, endowment returns and government funding.

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