Wednesday, April 21, 2021

AAM Survey: Most US museums saw visitor increases in 2012

Ford Bell cropped
Ford Bell of AAM. Photo: Judith Rubin.

WASHINGTON, D.C. USA—In the fourth year of the Great Recession, Americans continued to turn to the nation’s museums for affordable enrichment, enlightenment and entertainment. The Annual Condition of Museums and the Economy (ACME) survey conducted by the American Alliance of Museums found that a majority of museums served an increased number of visitors in 2012 – continuing a trend since 2009 – even while fully two-thirds of respondents reported some degree of financial stress at their institution. The good news: this is the lowest level of reported financial stress in four years, evidence that museums are part of the slow but steady rebound of the economy as a whole.

As the largest service and advocacy organization for the museum field – serving art museums to zoos and all types of museums in between – the Alliance initiated the ACME survey in January 2010, in the wake of economic downturn. Download the full 2013 report (an accessible 11 pages, complete with a four-year trend analysis) from the Alliance website.

Other key findings of ACME 2013 include:

  • 72% of museums reported steady or increased attendance, with an average increase across all museums of 4.3% in the number of visitors.
  • The median price of an adult general admission ticket to a U.S. museum remained just $7 – unchanged in the past three years – while 37% of museums were always free to visitors. Nearly all museums (92%) are free to the public on at least some occasions.
  • While the reports of economic stress decreased in 2012, the results also highlight the depths of the recession in 2009. As one museum director put it, “2012 was a good year for us; 2009 was one of the worst years.”
  • For the first time in four years, more museums reported an annual increase in total revenues than reported a decrease. In every revenue category except one, museums were more likely to see increases than decreases in revenue.
  • The one exception: support from all levels of government. A total of 35% of museums reported decreases in government support in 2012, with just 14% reporting increases.
  • The future is also looking somewhat brighter for museums that “have been weathering this ‘economic storm’ since 2008,” as one director put it. More than three-quarters of museums look forward to increased or steady budgets in 2013 and 30% of respondents say that economic conditions will be better or much better for their institutions this year.

“Four years have taken their toll on museums,” says Philip M. Katz, the Alliance’s assistant director for research and author of the ACME report. “Museums have relied on budget-saving measures – including staff freezes and deferred maintenance – but also creativity and a strong sense of mission to keep serving their communities. But the dark economic clouds really are starting to part.”

The real but modest gains in 2012 have not replaced the significant losses of 2009-2011, as America’s museums continue to serve more people with fewer resources, including filling gaps in the social safety net.

Judith Rubin
Judith Rubin ([email protected]) is a leading journalist, publicist, strategist, blogger, content marketing specialist and connector in the international attractions industry. She excels at writing about all aspects of design and technical design, production and project management. Areas of special interest include AV integration and show control, lighting design and acoustics, specialty cinema, digital video and world’s fairs. Judith has ties to numerous industry organizations. From 2005-2020 she ran communications, publications and social media for the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). In 2013, she was honored with the TEA Service Award. She was development director of IMERSA, and co-chair of the 2014 IMERSA Summit. She was publicist for the Large Format Cinema Association in the 1990s, now part of the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) and has also contributed to the publications of PLASA, IAAPA and the International Planetarium Society. Already making her mark as a magazine and book editor, Judith joined World’s Fair magazine in 1987, which introduced her to the attractions industry. Launching as a freelancer in the mid 1990s she has contributed to dozens of publications and media outlets including Funworld, Lighting&Sound America, Sound & Communications, Urban Land, The Raconteur and The Planetarian. She joined InPark in 2010. Judith earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute. She has lived in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area, and now makes her home in Saint Louis, where she is active in the local arts and theater community.

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