Museums are in big trouble

Courtesy The Field Museum

In ‘normal’ times, when we’re not in airports, we’re in museums.

And the ongoing pandemic is wreaking havoc with museums.

“The financial state of U.S. museums is moving from bad to worse,” said Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums.

AAM has been surveying its membership since the pandemic began. And in its latest survey of 850 museum directors around the country it finds that 30% of museums remain closed since the March lockdown.

“Those that have reopened are operating on an average of 35% of their regular attendance—a reduction that is unsustainable long-term,” says Lott. “Those that did safely serve their communities this summer do not have enough revenue to offset higher costs, especially during a potential winter lockdown,” she adds.

And, as we know, communities around the country have already begun to institute winter lockdowns.

Here are some other key points from the survey that are sure to alarm museum-lovers.

 *Over half (52%) of museums report that they have six months or less of operating reserves.

*Over half (53%) of responding museums have had to furlough or lay off staff. And about 30% of museum staff around the country are currently out of work.

*On average, museums responding to the survey anticipate losing approximately 35% of their 2020 operating income and an additional 28% of normal operating income in 2021.

Why care?

Because besides the wonderful exhibits museum present and the special collections they protect, museums employ a lot of people. And they add a lot to the economy of their communities.

Prior to the pandemic, museums supported 726,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributed $50 billion each year to the economy, according to

What will help museums make it through the pandemic?

Museums are asking federal, state, and local governments for financial support.

They deserve it.

We can help out museums by making donations to our favorites. By joining museums as new members or by making sure to renew our memberships. We can give memberships as holiday gifts, shop in museum giftshops (many are online), and we can make a point to visit the museums that are open in our communities and/or offering activities online.

Freebies, discounts and surprise perks for voters

Hotels offering perks and packages for Election Day

(Our story about Election Day perks first appeared on NBC News in a slightly different version).

Election Day, and perhaps the days and weeks following, may be especially tense this year for a myriad of reasons. To help ease the stress and mark the day, some hotels and restaurants are offering discounts and perks for overnight guests and complimentary cocktails for those who have proof they have voted. 

And some hotels, and at least one museum, are even turning their lobbies and rooftops into polling stations.

A president slept here, now you can visit and vote

The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis, Indiana is a museum year-round. But at election time the home of the 23rd U.S. president becomes a voting site.

During an Election Day tour visitors can see historical voting machines and learn about the history of the U.S. voting process in the “Protect the Vote” exhibit. While that’s going on, actors portraying the Harrison family will be on site awaiting results from the 1888 presidential election.

Vote on a hotel rooftop or in a hotel ballroom

Some hotels around the country are turning ballrooms, rooftops, and other large event spaces into polling places where citizens can cast a vote or drop off a mailed ballot with adequate social distance.

In California, the Kimpton Le Peer Hotel in West Hollywood is serving as an early voting and vote-by-mail ballot drop off location from October 30 through November 3. The dining space on the outdoor rooftop is being refitted with voting booths so voters will have fresh air, social distance, and great views.  

Voting booths will be sanitized after each use and guests who vote on-site will receive a 15 percent discount on special menu items, including sliders adorned with American flags and a “Bubbly Pilgrim” cocktail. In the lobby,  the hotel’s resident artist will be working on a new Election Day inspired mural.

The historic Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles, which was funded and built by women in 1926 and served as a YWCA women’s hostel in its early years, will serve as an official polling place from October 30 through November 3, with voting booths set up in the hotel’s Gran Sala event space.

And although the historic Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. is closed through early 2021 due to the pandemic, its ballroom joins the Capital One Sports Arena and other area sites as a Super Vote Center to accommodate large numbers of voters from October 27 through November 3.

Vote, then drink or eat free, or for cheap

In Texas, from now through election day, the LINE Austin is offering a $1 cocktail, beer, or wine at their bar P6 for visitors who show proof of voting. (1 drink per vote.) 

In Houston, Texas, three of the restaurants in the H Town Restaurant Group – Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi – will be treating voters who wear their “I VOTED!” sticker to the restaurant to a complimentary red, white or blue margarita. (Value $11).

The Kimpton Sawyer Hotel in Sacramento, CA will offer a complimentary glass of wine to guests who show their “I Voted” sticker from October 24 to November 3 on the hotel’s rooftop bar and lounge, Revival. The hotel is near the Golden 1 Center, an arena that will serve as a voting center on those dates.

In Denver, from now through Nov. 3, a red, white, and blue “Rock the Vote” cocktail will be complimentary to guests who sport their “I Voted” sticker and purchase a menu item at Local Jones restaurant at the Halcyon hotel in Cherry Creek.

The Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery, in Arlington, VA, which boasts of serving sweets and sides to Washington insiders, will have two special candidate-themed sandwiches on the menu November 2 and 3: a catfish filet for Trump and a sliced roasted turkey sandwich for Biden. Each sandwich will come with a complimentary “Vote” sugar cookie with red, white, and blue icing.

And starting at 5 pm PST on Election Night, The Hoxton, Portland will be hosting a political trivia night with an evening-long Happy Hour and comfort-food snack fest with corn dogs, chowder, tater tots and apple pie. Tickets start at $4.60 and include a welcome drink. For those anticipating a late night or who just want to stay in bed until the election results are tallied, the hotel is offering 30% off rooms that week with code AUTUMN.

Stay over, sleep it off

The Crossroads Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri is offering a “Not at a Crossroads” package on November 3 to guests who show proof of voting. The $169 room rate includes CBD gummies, Painkiller cocktails and a variety of candies and snacks, including WHOMP popcorn, Hot Tamales and Milk Duds.

Through November 3 Les Cactus Palm Springs is offering a 10% discount, a bottle of wine and a relaxing Mar Mar candle on all reservations of 3 nights or more to guests who show valid proof of voter registration.

In Washington, D.C. guests at the Kimpton George Hotel who show an “I Voted” sticker or an Early Voting equivalent, will receive a ‘surprise & delight’ from the front desk in the form of a small gift, food or beverage amenity, upgrade or late check out. And in addition to the hotel’s normal wine offerings at the complimentary daily wine hour, on Election Day the options will include a glass of bubbly or a glass of whiskey from Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.

How many museums will actually reopen?

Courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art

Sharing a (slightly updated) story we wrote for NBC News about the challenge museums are facing when considering reopening – or not – as a result of the pandemic.

Courtesy Walker Art Center

Museums opening slowly and cautiously. But some may not reopen at all.

New York City museums will reopen later this month, with timed entry and other precautions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday — but one-third of U.S. museums and attractions may not ever open their doors again, according to a recent survey.

Before the pandemic, museums, zoos, science centers and other historic and cultural attractions across the United States welcomed more than 850 million visitors a year, supported more than 726,000 jobs and contributed more than $50 billion a year to the economy.

Since March, that picture has faded. Many museums have been forced to make staff layoffs and furloughs, temporarily close doors, cut programs, lose revenue and, for those lucky enough to have them, dip into endowments.

“Initially, many museums resisted the temptation to tap their endowments to help plug their budget shortfalls,” Scott Perry, partner and co-leader of the Endowments and Foundations practice at NEPC, an investment firm, told NBC News. “But as the pandemic has continued on, some of these museums are reconsidering this approach and spending at much higher levels than they otherwise would,” he added.

A June survey from the America Alliance of Museums found that as many as 12,000 of America’s museums may close for good.

While some have rolled out everything from virtual escape room nights to live-streamed galas and animal cams, these types of activities can’t fully replace the regular revenue stream of in-person visits.

For now, such efforts “keep museum staff employed and keep the community engaged,” said Brendan Ciecko, CEO and founder of museum engagement platform Cuseum. “They also generate revenue, which is the best of all worlds.”

Courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art

Museums giving it a try

Other museums have already begun to welcome back visitors, albeit with reduced capacity and restrictions on activities.

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is following the lead of many grocery stores and shops by offering special gallery hours for at-risk visitors.

In Texas, the San Antonio Museum of Art is open, with visitors enjoying the additional space required for social distancing. One visitor told NBC News her family “felt safe the whole way through” their recent visit. The museum is also gaining off-campus fans by offering free downloads of artwork from its collection to players of Nintendo’s popular “Animal Crossing” game for use in virtual homes or art galleries.

The IMAG History & Science Center in Fort Myers, Florida, is open with virtual sessions and interactive virtual birthday parties for kids (and adults) with wizard, superhero, Star Wars and other themes.

Some museums already closed permanently

However, some museums have already announced permanent closures.

In mid-May, the five-year-old World of Speed Motorsport Museum in Wilsonville, Oregon, announced it would close and distribute its funds and assets — which include historic race cars, boats and motorcycles — to schools and other museums.

The museum closure is a strongly felt loss not only because “it put Wilsonville on the map as a major new tourism draw, but because the museum had formed a successful partnership with the local community college and 12 area high schools to host automotive classes for hundreds of students,” said Mark Ottenad, Public/Government Affairs Director for the City of Wilsonville.

In June, the Children’s Museum in Richmond, Virginia, closed its Fredericksburg branch. “This decision was made with a heavy heart,” the museum’s Executive Director Danielle Ripperton said in a statement. “It is necessary in light of our extended closure and resulting loss in revenue,” she added.

In early July, the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles announced its closure after 10 years, promising to donate its collection of prints to a “a highly reputable public archival institution.”

Other museums around the country may now be grappling with making similar decisions.

“Our survey was done before the latest virus spikes that happened in July,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, which conducted the survey. “And from what I’m hearing, if we did that survey again today it would be worse than in June, given that states are going back a phase and the virus is spiking in different places.”

Lott says some museums she has talked with are playing the “scenario game” about options to avoid closure.

“They don’t want to talk about it before they’re sure that’s what they’ll have to do,” she said.

Some places are taking matters into their own hands. The Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, started a GoFundMe account to “save Space Camp.” Just 17 days in to the fundraiser, the museum has already met — and exceeded its $1.5 million goal.

Not every cultural institution will be so lucky.

“Right now, a lot of places are just trying to stretch resources as far as they can go to give themselves a chance — before making a decision to close,” Lott said

Museum Monday

Courtesy Maryhill Museum

Yes, this staying at home and social-distancing routine is getting tiresome. But don’t forget that you can still enjoy lots of art and culture online and, in many cities, on foot, and by car.

Chess Sets

Bullfight chess set at the Maryhill Museum

If chess is one of the games you’ve been playing at home, you can learn about the history of the game and see some incredible chess sets in the online exhibition offered by the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, WA.

Maryhill’s chess set collection includes sets that are odd, whimsical, artist-made, and very rare.

Alice in Wonderland Chess Set at the Maryhill Museum

Drive-By Art

Courtesy Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

If it seems like murals are taking over all the blank walls in many cities, you’re right.

But that makes it possible to take in free art shows from your car or during a socially distanced stroll through a city any time of the day.

By Todd Frain, using images by Creative Clay artists.

Many cities also make their mural collection accessible online. One example: in Florida, the SHINE Mural Festival curates more than 90 murals in the St. Pete/Clearwater area and its virtual tours include photos, videos, and, in many cases, audio descriptions of the artworks.

By Jimmy Breen and Anthony Freese.

Museums adjust to post-pandemic visits

(My story about museums welcoming back visitors first appeared on NBC)

Ready to leave your house and spend some time in a museum?

With all 50 states in some stage of post-pandemic reopening, many museums are back welcoming visitors to art- and history-filled halls.

Doing so signals a return to “normal” in many communities — but it may also help plug the economic hole created when almost every museum in the country closed its doors in response to COVID-19 concerns.

“All museum revenue related to admission, gift shop and café sales evaporated, along with event rentals,” said Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, which pegs the loss at $33 million a day. “As many as one-third of the nation’s national cultural treasures may never reopen.”

Museums that are opening are doing so with extreme caution and close attention to social distancing, health and safety. Here is a sampling of what visitors will encounter.

Elvis Presley’s Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

It’s sexy when Elvis Presley croons about feeling his temperature rising in the classic “Burning Love.” But now that the gates at Graceland are reopened, anyone with a fever 100.4 degrees or higher is not allowed to enter the shrine to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

In addition to mandatory temperature checks, the attraction is limiting entry to just 25 percent of normal capacity and encouraging guests to wear masks. It is using commercial-grade cleaners, including UV light sanitizer wands and disinfectant foggers, to sanitize the campus.

The Mob Museum

The Mob Museum, The National Museum of Organized Crime & Law Enforcement is open in downtown Las Vegas with reduced entry capacity, a mask requirement for all guests and pre-entry temperature checks.

The museum has its own speakeasy and, while supplies last, will be giving each guest a complimentary bottle of ethanol hand sanitizer made in the on-site distillery.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland

John Lennon's Guitar

If it stayed closed through the end of the year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be facing a $12 million loss in revenue. So the museum is eager to reopen to the public by June 15.

“We have been blowing the doors off with virtual offerings on our website and reaching people where they are at this time,” said museum CEO Greg Harris, “We think that will increase the number of people that now desire to visit the museum in person.”

When the doors do open, there will be timed entry, limited capacity and newly hired nurses at the entrance to take everyone’s temperatures. The museum will reserve certain hours for at-risk groups such as seniors. Rock ‘n’ roll-themed masks will be provided to visitors who arrive without their own.

Many touch screens will be turned off until the museum installs antimicrobial covers, and “The Garage,” an exhibit that encourages visitors to play instruments and jam with others, will be closed.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not! – Branson

Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum (home of the world’s largest roll of toilet paper) opened over Memorial Day weekend with reduced capacity and new social distancing and sanitizing systems. The odditorium is evaluating how the protocols are working out before opening for the summer season.

Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, Springfield, Missouri

The sprawling Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium, adjacent to Bass Pro Shops’ national headquarters, reopened over Memorial Day weekend after a nine-week closure.

To accommodate social distancing, timed entries, enhanced cleaning procedures and limits on daily attendance, the attraction is extending its opening hours. Confined spaces like the swinging bridge are temporarily closed; interactive experiences, such as the penguin encounter, are being modified; and the museum is adopting the COVID-19 response plan developed by the Florida Aquarium in Tampa and the Infectious Disease Prevention team at Tampa General Hospital.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

New York City’s iconic Met said it plans to reopen in mid-August or whenever the city meets the phased-in reopening requirements.

The museum’s three locations — The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Cloisters and The Met Breuer — have been closed since mid-March.

“The Met has endured much in its 150 years, and today continues as a beacon of hope for the future,” President Daniel Weiss said in a statement last week. The institution will belatedly celebrate its 150th anniversary next year, he said.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming

The 40-acre Buffalo Bill Center of the West reopened May 7 with added staff members during peak hours to keep surfaces in the center’s five museums clean. Now that the south and east entrances to Yellowstone National Park are open, the museum is fine-tuning its new protocols and preparing to welcome more visitors.

Kentucky Derby Museum and Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Kentucky

Museums, aquariums, zoos and distilleries in Kentucky cannot reopen before June 8. But in Louisville, key attractions including the Kentucky Derby Museum and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory are already ringing up sales in their gift shops.