Recession forcing museums to do more with less

NEW YORK (AP) – The recession is hitting museums hard from coast to coast, forcing directors to boost admission fees, cut budgets and staff, and put ambitious projects on hold. But in a twist on the bleak economic news, museums are actually reporting an increase in attendance.

“It’s not the worst of times for museums, curiously enough,” Michael Conforti, president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, says. “Although all nonprofits and profits are struggling, we do have a curious place in this reality.”

A snapshot of the economic fallout isn’t pretty:

  • The Las Vegas Art Museum slashed 30 percent of its budget, then closed its doors in February although its board called the closure “a hibernation” until the economy rebounds.
  • _The Art Institute of Chicago’s endowment dropped 25 percent; to keep up with costs, it boosted the price of admission 50 percent to $18, prompting city aldermen to threaten to shut down the museum’s free city water.
  • The Detroit Institute of Arts cut 20 percent of its staff, and Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum and the Denver Art Museum both canceled upcoming exhibitions.
  • Boston’s Museum of Fine Art has laid off 33 workers and frozen salaries for its next fiscal year as part of a plan to reduce expenses by 12 percent.
  • Expansions have been halted at the Cincinnati Art Museum and St. Louis Art Museum and a plan to build a new Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland has been postponed.

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