On March 18, leaders from U.S. cultural associations wrote to Senate and House leaders asking for at least $4 billion from Congress to aid nonprofit museums and cultural sites. The letter states that U.S. museums are "losing at least $33 million a day due to closures as a result of COVID-19 and will be in desperate need of significant federal support to maintain jobs, secure our cultural heritage, help to rebuild our nation’s tourism industry — and simply to survive the months to come."
The letter noted an “existential threat from the closures required to address the COVID-19 pandemic” and was sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Charles Schumer.
U.S. museums annually contribute $50 billion to the US economy, generate $12 billion in local, state, and federal tax, and support 726,000 jobs, according to the letter. The lockdown status of much of the nation to battle the health crisis could result in mass layoffs in the cultural sector, becoming part of the downward spiral of the economy.
"There are field-wide concerns about large-scale layoffs, especially for the lowest paid and hourly staff as they will potentially be hit the hardest," the letter states.
Among the leaders signing the letter was Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums; Christine Anagnos, executive director of the Association of Art Museum Directors; and six other leaders of cultural associations.
Last week, the New York Times reported that "the Metropolitan Museum of Art is projecting a total shortfall of close to $100 million for the near future and expects to be closed until July, according to a letter the museum sent to its department heads on Wednesday."
Considering that the Met has an operating budget of $320 million and an endowment of $3.6 billion, the anticipated financial blow and personnel loss at such a large institution is seen as a "canary in the coal mine" for smaller museums, notes the New York Times.
The letter warns “as many as 30% of museums, mostly in small and rural communities, will not re-open without significant and immediate emergency financial assistance.”
Beyond the (at least) $4 billion in funding, the letter asks "...Congress to adopt a temporary ‘universal charitable deduction’ to help incentivize charitable giving which is expected to decline in the months ahead.”
The letter ends, “Congress should ensure communities are able to support their local museums and all nonprofits during this crisis by enacting a targeted, temporary giving incentive that enables all Americans to receive a tax incentive for giving to the work of museums, and all charitable nonprofits, responding to, or suffering from, the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Many museums have in recent days expanded online offerings, or show collection items online, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Emergency federal funding could sustain new endeavors and keep staff in place until the pandemic subsides.
Renewing or purchasing a museum membership is in one way that people can help cultural institutions. Read more ways to keep engaged in the arts while staying home all day.
Philanthropists are beginning to set up donation websites for the nonprofits, including the New York Community Trust's NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund. ARTFIXdaily has launched a fundraiser with Direct Relief to provide healthcare workers with personal protective equipment.
The American Alliance of Museums asks for the public's advocacy with government, noting on its website: "Now is the time tocontact your legislatorsto let them know what the museum field is facing and urge them to provide critical support for museums."
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