What you should knowThe iconic New York City Museum is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year It is projecting $150 million in lost revenue from the pandemic through June The Met cut its staff by 20% through a combination of layoffs, leave and early retirement packages to cut costs and still faces an uncertain future
NEW YORK – The Metropolitan Museum of Art reopens its doors to the public on Saturday after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close for an unprecedented five months.
The iconic New York City museum, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, is projecting $150 million in lost revenue from the pandemic through June and had to cut its staff by 20% through a combination of layoffs, leave and early retirement packages. Like many museums around the world, the Met faces an uncertain road ahead.
This is an exceptionally difficult time for the cultural landscape, said spokesperson Ken Weine in an interview. We are very anxious to reopen. But we will reopen in a very different environment.
Across the country, cultural institutions of all sizes have experienced serious financial challenges during the pandemic. According to a June survey by the American Alliance of Museums, 16% of museums believed they faced a significant risk of permanent closure without additional financial relief.
Even the Met, with a total of $3.3 billion in donations and a 150-year history of generous donors, has struggled amidst the financial impact.
Before the pandemic, the museum was on the way to balancing its budget, according to financial director Jamie Kelleher.
But, of course, Covid hit and the world changed, he said.
The Met closed on March 13 after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency and closed most of the cultural institutions. That left the museum, which has an annual budget of about $300 million, without any of its usual income from admissions, retail sales and restaurants. Its more than 2 million square feet of gallery space, usually filled with both tourists and local New Yorkers, was empty.
The museum cut spending on programming and new acquisitions and also cut executive salaries. It has also received about $4 million through the CARES Act Employee Retention Credit.
These measures were taken with a view to doing everything possible to preserve jobs, said Weine.
The Met finally decided to reduce its staff by more than 400 posts, about 20% of its personnel. These cuts were made through a combination of voluntary retirement, leave and redundancy programmes.
When the coronavirus crisis first struck, the museum launched an emergency relief fund, which redirects some proceeds from donations, as well as support from trustees and other donors. To date, museum administrators have raised $30 million for this effort.
So that fund will be able to cover half, if not more than half, of the lost income we expect during this period, said Kelleher.
Membership, which generally represents around 10% of the Mets total revenues, is not expected to decline significantly. Members are very eager to return, says Weine, and were able to go Thursday and Friday before it reopened to the general public.
Most business support comes from exhibition sponsorship, says Kelleher. Despite the changed exhibition dates, most sponsors have remained flexible and have not made any major deals, he said.
Bank of America is the lead corporate sponsor of Making The Met, 1870-2020, the flagship exhibition celebrating the Mets 150th anniversary. The exhibition features more than 250 works of art and explores the history and development of the museum.
What is unique about the American system of funding culture, and philanthropic funding in general, is the philanthropy that funds many of the things that our society treasures and trusts the most, Weine said.
The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, announced on 14 August that the museums, in addition to the aquariums and other cultural centres, in New York City could reopen on 24 August. The state is required to operate at 25% of capacity, with entry scheduled. Masks and temperature controls will also be required.
The challenges will continue, even after the reopening, said Weine.
The Met has had a record number of visitors in recent years. In fiscal year 2019, 28% of the Mets more than 7 million visitors were international tourists. The Met will now reopen to a limited and almost entirely local audience.
What has been surprising in these months is how uncertain the terrain is and how every day it can and has moved in a different direction, from the reality of public health to the pace of economic recovery, said Weine.
In this environment, preparing for the future can be a challenging task. The Met continues to model several different scenarios for the months and years ahead.
Kelleher says that what seemed to be a pessimistic outlook 6 months ago has actually become optimistic.
We need to be prepared to weather a storm that is much longer than we think, he said.