This post was originally published here (MilfordDailyNews).
For dozens museums and nonprofit cultural institutions in Massachusetts, fundraising is a constant and necessary part of life.
“It’s a continuing and ongoing process for us,” said Victoria Stevens, executive director of the Hull Lifesaving Museum. “It’s a fact of life for nonprofits.”
In March, many cultural nonprofits were on edge when the Trump administration released a preliminary budget plan that would defund the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Those concerns were put on hold, at least temporarily, when Congress passed a 2017 budget that not only preserved funding for the national endowments and the IMLS, but increased it slightly. The budget cycle ends Sept. 30, and it’s uncertain whether the funding will be targeted for future cuts.
“Certainly, we have received funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and many people would not realize the impact those programs have in the community,” said Stevens, who declined to comment on “political” matters.
It is difficult to generalize the financial needs and support for museums in Massachusetts, said Greg Liakos, spokesman for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which receives a portion of its funding from federal endowments. In Massachusetts, the term “museum” includes local history museums, small art galleries and massive institutions like the Boston Museum of Science and Museum of Fine Arts.
“It’s everything from major, large museums with large budgets and large capital needs, down to small, locally based historic homes, literary sites, art museums, science museums and history museums,” he said.
The New England Museum Association lists more than 150 museums in Massachusetts.
Generally, admissions and sales from the gift shop fund just a small portion of a museum’s operating budget. Nationally, museums draw more than 36 percent of their funding from private and corporate donations, according to the American Alliance for Museums. Earned income accounts for about 27 percent, and investment income accounts for roughly 11 percent. Government support, including state and federal grants and funding, makes up 24 percent of museum funding nationally.
“The reality is, for the vast majority, public funding in all its manifestations represents a relatively small portion of the overall support structure,” Liakos.
Does that mean museums shouldn’t be too concerned if the federal government cuts funding for the IMLS, National Endowment for the Arts or National Endowment for the Humanities?
Not quite, Liakos said. Nonprofits often use public funds to leverage private and corporate donations, so a loss of federal support could make a significant impact.
“I think the biggest danger would be the loss of federal support as a lever and imprimatur of quality our museums can use to take to their corporate, foundation and private sources of funding to leverage donations,” he said.
Debra Petke, executive director of the Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, knows first-hand that donors are reluctant to give money to an institution with an uncertain future.
When problems with the museum’s boiler prompted the town to order Danforth Art to move last year, the art museum and school came close to shutting its doors for good.
“When an institution hits difficult times, you would think that’s when people come in with financial support, and often it’s not,” Petke said, “Donors will hold back to see what happens. Donors like to put money in things that are visibly successful.”
While spending $700,000 to renovate its new home, Danforth Art put its collection in traveling exhibits at other institutions and had to close its art school, a major source of its income.
Danforth Art, Petke said, managed to weather the financial storm. The art school reopened in its new home in February, and talks to form a partnership with Framingham State University are ongoing. She hopes to finalize the partnership later this year and take steps to reopen Danforth gallery.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the federal funds,” she said. “We don’t get an annual federal subsidy, but we rely on the IMLS and NEA. They very often provide grant money for the preservation of collections. It would really hurt us if that funding dried up.”
The Hull Lifesaving Museum, which is dedicated to the maritime history of Boston Harbor, does not have an endowment, so it raises funds for its entire operating budget each year, primarily through corporate donations, private donations and fundraising events.
The museum, Stevens said, has received Massachusetts Cultural Council funding in the past for a special exhibit on Boston Lighthouse, and funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities for archival storage and coastal disaster planning.
Liakos said museums are “essential to the health and vitality of the commonwealth.”
“Museums are incredibly valuable institutions to Massachusetts,” he said. “They preserve and interpret our past. They help us understand our society and the challenges and opportunities we face as a culture. And they provide amazing experiences for children and adults in cities and towns across the state.”