The Metropolitan Museum of Art will reopen its doors to the public on Saturday after the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close for an unprecedented 5 months.
The legendary New York Museum, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, forecasts $ 150 million in revenue losses from the pandemic by June and has had to cut its workforce by 20% through layoffs, vacation days and early retirement packages. Like many museums around the world, the Met is facing an uncertain path.
"It is an exceptionally difficult time for the cultural landscape," said spokesman Ken Weine in an interview. "We are very excited about the reopening. But we will reopen in a completely different environment."
Cultural institutions of all sizes across the country have faced serious financial challenges during the pandemic. According to a June survey by the American Alliance of Museums, 16% of museums felt they were at significant risk of permanent closure without additional financial relief.
Even the Met – with an endowment of $ 3.3 billion and a 150-year history of generous donors – has grappled with the financial shock.
Before the pandemic, the museum was on track to balance its budget, according to CFO Jamie Kelleher.
"But of course Covid has hit and the world has changed," she said.
The Met closed on March 13 after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency and closed most cultural institutions. That left the museum with an annual budget of around $ 300 million without the usual revenue from tickets, retail sales, and restaurants. The more than two million square feet of gallery space, which is normally inhabited by both tourists and local New Yorkers, was empty.
The museum cut spending on programs and new acquisitions, and also reduced executive pay. In addition, the company has received approximately $ 4 million in employee retention credit through the CARES Act.
"These measures were taken with the aim of doing everything possible to keep jobs," said Weine.
The Met finally decided to reduce its workforce by more than 400 jobs – around 20% of its employees. These cuts were made through a combination of voluntary retirement programs, vacations and layoffs.
When the coronavirus crisis first emerged, the museum launched an emergency fund that diverted some endowment funds as well as support from trustees and other donors. To date, the museum's trustees have raised $ 30 million for this effort.
"So this fund will be able to recover half, if not more than half, of the lost revenue that we expect over this period," said Kelleher.
Membership, which typically represents about 10% of the Met's total sales, is not expected to decrease significantly. Members are "very willing to return," says Weine, and were able to leave Thursday and Friday before it reopened to the general public.
Most of the company's support comes through exhibition sponsorships, says Kelleher. Despite the changed exhibition dates, most sponsors have remained flexible and have not made any significant agreements, she said.
Bank of America is the main sponsor of "Making The Met, 1870-2020" – the signature exhibition marking the Met's 150th anniversary. The exhibition features more than 250 works of art and examines the history and development of the museum.
"What is unique about the American system of funding culture, and of philanthropic funding in general, is that philanthropy funds many of the things our society values and relies on most," said Weine.
Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, announced on August 14th that museums, along with aquariums and other cultural centers in New York City, could reopen on August 24th. The state requires a capacity of 25% with timed entry. Masks and temperature tests are also required.
"The challenges will continue even after we reopen," said Weine.
The Met has had record visitor numbers in recent years. In fiscal year 2019, 28% of the more than 7 million visitors to the Met were international tourists. Now the Met is reopening to a limited and almost exclusively local audience.
"What has been noticed during these months is how unsafe the terrain is and how it can and does move in a different direction every day, from the public health reality 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 various scenarios for the coming months and years.
Kelleher says the seemingly pessimistic outlook 6 months ago has actually turned out to be optimistic.
"We have to be prepared to weather a storm that will last much longer than we ever thought," she said.