Survey Paints Stark Portrait of Museum Workers’ Financial Situation
A report released April 13 by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) reveals that 43 percent of museum workers saw their income decline by an average of 31 percent over the course of the past year, owing to the continuing Covid-19 crisis. The report, based on a survey of 2,266 respondents conducted between March 9 and March 11, showed that independent contractors and consultants were among the hardest hit, losing roughly 50 percent of their income as museums canceled or postponed shows as a result.
Most US arts institutions shut down in March 2020 in response to the pandemic’s first wave; reopenings have varied from state to state, and in some instances from city to city, but even those who were able to greet visitors the earliest and stay open the longest saw a tremendous decline in attendance thanks to Covid-related restrictions limiting visitor numbers. Travel restrictions and visitors’ readiness to enter enclosed public spaces also played a part.
The AAM’s report, appearing concurrently with a UNESCO paper showing that museum’s worldwide saw public funding shrink by an average of 50 percent over the past year, also offered a view of the emotional toll the pandemic has had on museum workers, nearly half of whom said they were forced by the crisis to take on extra tasks. Of the employees surveyed, who were asked to rate the impact the pandemic had had on their mental health on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 indicating the strongest negative effect, many said they had suffered; the average impact across all workers was 6.6, with those under thirty-five averaging 7.8, and students 8.
Additionally revealed were discrepancies in pandemic-related income loss, with 24 percent of Hispanic workers and 19 percent of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) workers noting that they were living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 12 percent of white workers.
“As we recover and rebuild, we must focus on equity, empathetic leadership and actions that support the people who make museums possible,” said AAM president and CEO Laura Lott in a statement. “The resiliency and future vitality of our field relies on them.”