Many U.S. museums in trouble, but locals hanging on through pandemic

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — To the list of struggling institutions, add one more — the museum industry, public and private.

The pandemic has taken a toll on virtually all businesses that rely on crowds and physical attendance —which describes the experience offered by art and historical museums.

And now we have more specific evidence of that toll. A new survey suggests that- one-third of all U.S. museums are in danger of closing.vWhat might that mean here in Bakersfield?

All across the country museums are going out of business. They’re suffering, they’re losing money, they’re in big trouble. How are the bakersfield museums doing? Three or four of them are hanging on, some better than others.

If this were any other summer evening, the wide walkways of the kern county museum might be bustling with visitors. The lori brock children’s museum might be swarming with kids. The bakersfield museum of art might be toasting a new show opening.

This is not just any other summer evening. This is month six of the Covid-19 pandemic, and U.S. museums, like pretty much everything else in this country, are feeling it.

Even in the best of times — museum executives will tell you — museums operates on the tightest of margins. And now?

“We have about $50,000 a month in expenses and last month we brought in $470 in revenue,” said Mike McCoy, executive director of the Kern County Museum. The doors of the Chester Avenue facility have been closed for months, and this summer the museum board was forced to lay off three popular, productive employees, including curator Bethany Rice. McCoy himself took a 25 percent pay cut.

It’s hard to imagine the Kern County Museum closing for good but not so hard for others to imagine it happening elsewhere

The American Alliance of Museums polled more than 750 museum directors in June and the results are out — one-third believe they may be forced to permanently close because of the economic harm wrought by the Covid-19 closures. Just this month museums in Tucson and L.A. — specifically, the Annenberg Museum of Photography — said they’ve closed permanently.

The Buena Vista Museum of Natural History has been forced to temporarily close, as has the California Living Museum, or CALM — don’t worry, the residents are being cared for — and the Bakersfield Museum of Art is also temporarily closed.

All are using the downtime to make improvements.

BMOA curator Rachel Magnus says the museum is keeping patrons as happy and informed as possible with a digital newsletter, virtual tours and a podcast. They’re hoping to have the green light by January for a long planned exhibition on the Bakersfield Sound.

“For a museum to truly educate its community and beyond, it has to be for everyone,” she said. “For us to tell the stories that provide an identity for people to come into this community’s museum. That’s where we’re really going to make changes in the community.”

And the BMOA, in case you’re wondering, will not be casualty of Covid -19. BMOA Executive Director Amy Smith says the museum will not be closing anytime soon.

“I’m the eternal optimist here,” Smith said. “I’m also the financial person so that I would say that we’re not (closing). We have a nice little nest egg of reserves if we need to use it, but we have not had to. Our donors have been phenomenal about stepping up.”

Digital online newsletters and virtual tours: For patrons of the arts it’s going to have to do during this pandemic.

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