Museum Malaise

If you have followed our content to any degree, you can probably tell that visiting museums is core to the vision of Uncrated. Our working mission is on our homepage: to inspire engagement in hands-on education by promoting visitorship, volunteerism, and community science in collaboration with culture centers and natural areas. So when Covid hit hard in mid-March and stay-at-home orders closed many businesses and public institutions, I was worried. Not worried for content to create, as this has been more of a hobby or labor of love than a business. But for the institutions we hold dear, the places that inspired this weird journey with a puppet, a potentially dark future looms. More than half of 760 museum directors surveyed for a recent report by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) expect that their financial reserves will last less than 6 months. Despite 75% of surveyed institutions providing digital educational content during their closure, nearly two-thirds expect to require cuts to their education and programming budgets.

Sure, the Federal Government’s bail-out package earmarked $200 million to museums at the end of March, awarded by three large granting agencies, but the funds being awarded are not nearly enough to replace the vast losses that have accrued after closing doors for a full quarter of the year. As Covid cases spike around the country, many institutions who had planned to open their doors by now, are still unable to do so. Even in states that are open, many museums face a perilous uphill battle to establish a “new normal.” Five percent of respondents to the AAM survey have already relieved their entire staff. Locally, Burpee Museum of Natural History, beloved home of "Jane," the most complete juvenile T. rex skeleton, has lost more than $150,000 during a prime time for hosting outdoor events and summer camps, and has had to lay off 84% of its staff since the shutdown.

Reports show some dire straits ahead, but there is reason for hope. The Illinois Humanities Covid-19 Emergency Relief Grant recently split nearly $500K among 130 Illinois cultural and community centers. Our friends at Midway Village Museum were fortunate to receive $7,500 of that grant. There are also fundraisers to support museum workers who have been relieved of duty via one verb or another. The Republican-led Senate recently submitted the HEALS Act and is expected to vote on the HEROES Act that passed through the Democrat-led House of Representatives in May. The two pieces of legislation have a number of discrepancies to be worked out which could drastically impact the types of Federal assistance available to the many compromised museums and their staffs.

So how can a regular person who doesn’t want to see their local museum’s doors close for good help to keep them open? You may write to your state’s senators to express the importance of relief aid to museums and nature centers in your community. Buying a membership is a great way to support your favorite institution. As museums have begun opening in parts of the country, your shiny new membership may get you into exclusive experiences, or discounted admission to other museums! If you already are a member, or are not able or willing make that level of commitment, fret not! Most museums will accept monetary donations of any amount, and even visiting on a scheduled “admission free day” strengthens the museum’s ability to quantify its importance in the community to the board of directors and community leaders. If you are a body coming through the door (with a mask on), interacting with a virtual version of an event or fundraiser, or even binge watching an institution’s videos on YouTube then you are supporting someone's dedicated museum work.

As ever, stay safe and mask up when you’re uncrating adventures in your community!

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