A recent story on NPR's All Things Considered showcased just how much in financial distress many museums around the country are. Museums may often rely on government support and revenue from endowments to a larger extent than other types of nonprofits, and with state budgets drying up and endowment cash disappearing in the blink of an eye in the stock market, museums are having to resort to all kinds of previously unthinkable methods.
Anecdotaly, I have been hearing this type of thing from friends of mine in the art world. A friend who works in government relations for a very popular art museum told me the shock wave that the fall of one of the museum's large supporters, Lehman Brothers, sent thru the entire institution. A portion of the annual budget had, poof, disappeared, with the collapse of the financial institution.
According to the NPR story, one museum, faced with selling its historic building to stay afloat, committed "the cardinal sin" of the museum world-it sold two works of art to pay its bills. The National Academy Museum and School of Fine Art is now "blacklisted" by other museums-they won't lend artwork to it for shows. But as the director of the museum who had been part of the decision to sell the art works commented: "There are going to be a lot of institutions that are being brought to their knees by the current financial climate."
Some museums are looking for innovative ways to draw in crowds, and finding the the young urban professional might be a cash cow in hiding. Case in point: two friends of mine who live in San Francisco enjoyed the San Fran MOMA so much they became members. When they attended a member function, museum staff were so excited to discover two "young" people among their membership list, they featured Adam and Rebekah in a membership campaign. Not only could an influx of younger donors help plug some of the budget gaps left by the collapse of larger donating institutions now, it could begin building relationships long into the future. When it comes to "estate planning", Gen Yers certainly have not made up their minds, and there is lots of opportunity to win us over.
(Adam and Rebekah: live and on poster)