Third Art Fund directors’ survey on pandemic impacts track ‘plans beyond mere survival’ 6 Jun 2022

The Art Fund has published its third survey of museum directors, tracking the two years since the start of the pandemic, and its impact on museums. The latest survey shows museums moving beyond survival mode and into recovery, with some positive developments, but also lasting fragility at both a personal and organisational level. The report shows that:   

  • Visitors are at 61% of pre-pandemic levels, but with noticeable losses of international and older audiences. The latter were backbone visitors for many museums during the week, and formed the majority of coach parties. Their absence has made audience profiles look younger, while leaving income and overall footfall significantly down. There have also been more demands and tensions between visitors in the pandemic aftermath.
  • Positive trends among visitors include new local audiences, increased dwell time, greater spend per visitor and a shift to cashless, digital engagement on site and continued strong outdoor provision.
  • Income is at 68% of pre-pandemic levels. Long-term survival concerns are down from 2021, when 9% of museums were very concerned and 47% concerned; but they are still relatively high at 4% and 34% respectively in 2022. 40% currently express confidence in surviving long term.
  • The 2021 report recorded exhausted and overstretched staff – now in 2022, 57% of museum directors say that there has been an increase in staff mental health struggles, and that addressing this is a priority. This is especially so in national, local authority and university museums.
  • Many museums say they have staffing and capacity problems: 59% cite fewer volunteers, 46% staffing restructure, and 44% difficulty recruiting.
  • One in ten museums is now involved in the restitution or repatriation of collections, with university museums leading the way because of greater freedoms and strong international connections.
  • The challenges cited as the top concern for museums are earned income shortfalls (40%), lack of staff or capacity (34%), maintaining buildings (32%), low visitor numbers (28%). Over half to two thirds of museums also expressed these as general concerns as well.

  In her overview of the findings, Sarah Philp, Art Fund’s Director of programmes and policy, points to the need to support mental health, adding “as the impact of redundancies begins to be felt, there is a risk to the range of services museums can offer their communities, and to the ability and expertise to care for collections that underpin these services. There is perhaps more ambition than ever across the sector, but it can only be achieved by a well-supported workforce.” Art Fund, Museums Journal