OK museums, it’s time to talk money.
I don’t mean admission fees or fundraising drives. I’m talking about all the money museums generate for local, national, and global economies. If you haven’t yet found a resolution for 2017, make it to spread the word that museums are important for the economy.
Museums are non-profits, with most relying on grants, donations, and ticket sales to keep their doors open. Yet government funding to museums is being cut in many countries. It’s often seen as a ‘soft’ money-saving option, more palatable and re-election safe than cutting hospital staff or free school meals. Even as a museophile, I can’t deny that museums seem less essential than hospitals, schools, or roads. I often hear museum workers fretting that the impact museums have is unquantifiable, hindering their grant applications and fundraising drives.
The good news is that’s not true. Many of the economic benefits of museums have been quantified. Now it’s time for governments, industries, and individuals to recognise it.
I started thinking about this while completing a museum learning project, realizing how many people we had employed for just one 6-month venture on a tiny budget. Between the learning films we produced, the tablets we with used with students, the posters we printed, and photography and videography to capture the event, we employed at least 10 businesses and 9 people (that’s not including museum staff). The project also provided 2 volunteer opportunities.
In England, museums directly spend £1.45 billion every year. As for the money other organisations and individuals give to museums: every £1 invested in the industry produces £3 for the economy. So museums aren’t just great places to learn about money, like at the Science Museum pictured below, but to make money too.
Sporting events like football, rugby, and – in my own neighbourhood of Wimbledon – tennis, are considered crucial to the economy because of the crowds they bring in. Yet UK museums attract over 100 million visits each year, more than all live sporting events in the country combined. And this isn’t just a case of nerdy Brits; US museums enjoy nearly twice as many visits per year as all major sporting events and theme parks combined. Take that, Disneyland.
Museums bring the vital lifeblood of funding and tourism to rural and suburban areas. They encourage regeneration of buildings, amenities, and communities that might otherwise be left behind. They are one of the biggest tourism stimulators in every country I researched for this post.
Museums are also important contributors to to scientific and technological innovations. For example, the Natural History Museum in London has in-house research labs studying molecular sciences, ore mineralogy, and more.
In England alone, the museum sector employs nearly 40,000 people in more than 2600 organisations, not to mention providing volunteer and internship opportunities. In the United States, museums provide more than 400,000 jobs and directly contribute $21 billion to the national economy each year. In Australia, 200,000 jobs and over $4 billion in direct economic contributions have not stopped their government from reducing funding to the sector by $100 million. Can any developed country really afford to jeopardize such a valuable part of the economy?
The UK creative and cultural sector accounts for 7.3% of the national economy, which is comparable to the financial services industry. If governments can justify spending billions on stabilizing big banks by arguing they are vital to the economy, a similar argument can be made for the heritage sector. Research shows that museums enjoy an average 80% satisfaction rate from their users. Can the same be said for the banking industry?
It’s time to change the perception that museums and culture are separate from economic concerns, or a drain on tax revenue. In an increasingly volatile world, the monetary and social value of museums is one of the safest investments a government can make.
Still not convinced that museums create jobs and boost the economy? Check out this awesome infographic from the American Alliance of Museums to find out even more ways these special places benefit everyone.