Monday, December 04, 2006

U.S. museums are bursting out all over

The American Association of Museums' new annual "state of the sector" report has spurred some media coverage of a building boom now underway. It's not clear whether the trend cuts across all sizes among the estimated 17,500 museums in the U.S., but the big ones at least seem to be merrily satisfying their edifice complex.

Major museums are adding on in literally dozens of cities; a number of new wings or buildings opening now were first planned in the 1990s economic boom. The mix of public and private funding for the capital projects seems to vary widely, which is also true with the operating finances of museums.

The obvious question here is, can the sector afford to operate all this new space? I notice that most of the capital-fundraising campaigns now seem to include new endowments to cover overhead, so somebody has learned something. Still the question of whether the building boom represents supply appropriately rising to meet demand seems unanswered: the Association press release doesn't seem to provide long-term trend data on things like museum attendance and revenues, and data sources like Giving USA don't specifically aggregate museums as a category. (The press release does repeat the non-profit sector's autocomplaint about reduced public funding having forced an increased reliance on private fundraising, but the statistics they offer don't actually support that statement so I dunno.)

No comments: