A Very Good Year – If It Weren’t for the Recession

Nations’ museums report growing attendance but struggle to stay open

By Sharon Donnell
|  Thursday, Feb 25, 2010  |  Updated 7:31 PM EDT
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A Very Good Year – If It Weren’t for the Recession

The “staycation” trend that gained traction in 2009 may have contributed to an attendance boom at the Smithsonian and museums across the nation, as recession-stressed families skipped expensive vacations and sought more value for their education and entertainment dollars. 

The recession also resulted in financial challenges for the museums. According to a new survey from the American Association of Museums, 67 percent of museums experienced at least moderate financial stress during 2009 -- and 18 percent said it was the worst year they experienced since at least 2005.
 
The stress was a result of declines in revenue from all sources: private donations, government support, corporate sponsorship and investments. Yet three-in-five museums also saw an increase in attendance, and about 15 percent of museums experienced a jump of 20 percent or more in attendance.
 
Our city’s Smithsonian museums received a record number of visitors in 2009. The Washington Post reported in January that 30 million people visited the institution’s nineteen facilities in 2009. Smithsonian officials attributed the jump in attendance to several factors, including the influx of visitors for President Barack Obama’s inauguration and the release of the film "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
 
Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas told the Post, “People would come and ask visitor services, 'Where is the real thing? I just saw the movie.'”
 
For the cash-strapped, Smithsonian museums are a definite bargain – admission is free. 
 
But even museums that charge admission can be cost-effective, according to the AAM. A press release from the industry group pointed out that the median price for an adult admission to a museum was $7 last year, making a museum visit less expensive than a ticket for a movie -- such as "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
 

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