New Study Shows Museum Losses During The Pandemic The report from the American Alliance of Museums sheds light on losses suffered during the pandemic; three-quarters of the country's museums reported an average of 40% slump in operating income.

A New Report Shows Museums Had A Bad Year — But Not The Worst Possible

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The future of American museums seemed dire about a year ago. An association of museum directors predicted the pandemic might permanently close as many as a third of museums. But the same group has good news - well, at least better news - about museums now. NPR's Neda Ulaby has more.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: How stressful was 2020 for museum directors?

BILLY OCASIO: Oh, very stressful.

ULABY: That's Billy Ocasio of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture in Chicago. It's still standing strong after the pandemic wiped out dozens of small museums all over the country. Ocasio was afraid his might be among them.

OCASIO: We knew there was a risk of closing permanently.

ULABY: Ocasio lost about 33% of his annual operating budget, but he was lucky. He did not have to lay off a single member of his tiny staff of three, putting him way ahead of the average American museum that's lost almost 30% of its staff. That's according to a survey out today from the American Alliance of Museums, run by Laura Lott, who says many museums operate on the slimmest of margins.

LAURA LOTT: Museums have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenses to keep their places clean and safe, to upgrade their HVAC systems.

ULABY: All while losing income from school trips and events. On average, museums were shuttered for 28 weeks because of the pandemic and spent $300,000 on closing and reopening. In all, the average pandemic financial loss per museum was close to $700,000.

OCASIO: You know, when you have a small budget, it just gets very, very costly.

ULABY: Billy Ocasio says his museum had to cut programming pretty much completely. But like 90% of museum workers across the country, his staff decided to up their digital game.

OCASIO: We taught people how to cook online. We taught people how to visit different parts of Puerto Rico online.


JESSICA VAN DOP DEJESUS: San Juan has good food.

ULABY: That's one of the museum's videos offering COVID-era escapism. But too many museums now still face significant risk of permanent closure, says Laura Lott. Fifteen percent say they may not survive the year.

LOTT: Museums have this air of permanence about them. They aren't invulnerable, and they need the public's support.

ULABY: Losing 15% of American museums, Lott says, translates to the loss of 5,000 museums across the country.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.


Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.