We finished 2012 with several new and proposed museums on the books that will be advancing in the coming year or two. One in particular, that we are excited about and has been in planning for several years is the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is locating in the May Company building known as LACMA West.
As background for the various studies completed in 2012, we looked at the state of the museum industry and what happened with the Great Recession. We all know philanthropy suffers in a recession, but did you know that museum attendance at the better institutions actually improves when times are tough? This is because people tend to stay close to home and enjoy local culture and attractions for rest and relaxation.
Among the institutions with improved attendance over the past few years are the following:
- The California Science Center
- The Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- Huntington Library & Museum
- The Skirball Cultural Center
- The Museum of Contemporary Art
Exciting new exhibitions and buildings were added at the CSC and LACMA. Other institutions tried alternative programming that brought in new visitors. The largest increase was seen at LACMA, where attendance blossomed 35% from 2010 to 2011, and now stands at about 1.24 million. The Skirball increased 20 percent in the same period from 500,000 to 600,000 annual attendance, while the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles grew 24 percent from 2010 to 2011, from 325,000 to 402,000 due to Free Mondays and Thursday evenings and an extremely successful “Art in the Streets” exhibition.
Nationally, museums have built shows from in-house collections instead of importing more expensive traveling shows, in order to deal with shrinking budgets during the recession. While this is bad news for exhibit designers, fabricators and architects, it is good news for the public. The Metropolitan Museum of Art staged a Picasso exhibition which drew 700,000 in 2011, while LACMA’s first exhibition in the Resnick Pavilion showcased its new collection of early European fashions.
That is not to say museums have not suffered in the recession. While attendance was increasing, many museums had to draw down on their endowments in order to keep the doors open. And while attendance increased, average attendance price nationally remained fairly flat, at about $7 per admission.
According to the advocacy group, Americans for the Arts, personal expenditures on museums/library visits were down from $7.2 billion in 2008 to $5.9 billion in 2010. About 40% of museums surveyed experienced a decline in total revenues in 2011, compared to 53% that experienced a drop in 2010. Still, 32% entered 2012 with higher budgets, and another 35% maintained their budgets from 2011.
So the data shows some positive trends and some challenges for our cultural institutions. Future trends suggest that:
- Museums will be doing more with less, digging shows from inside instead of mounting new blockbusters as in recent years.
- Many museums will be learning to be more business-like and take advantage of profit opportunities.
- A major opportunity lies in creating/designing experiences to engage new visitors online and to present programs and exhibits to consumers whenever and wherever.
- According to a recent survey by the American Association of Museums, fewer than half of U.S. museums give visitors an opportunity to use mobile technology during their visits. Mobile smartphone apps and mobile giving are the fastest growing areas, with almost one-third of museums planning to introduce some mobile tech in 2011.
- Museums are most likely to turn to sponsorships or partnership to support mobile programs such as augmented reality.