Cleveland Museums Face Financial Losses Due to Coronavirus

moCa Cleveland in University Circle
A view of "Judy's Hand" and moCa in Cleveland. With museums closed indefinitely, their leaders grapple with financial losses. [YUKiO_CLE \ Shutterstock.com]
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With museums and cultural organizations closed indefinitely, area institutions face financial losses from the coronavirus.

Beyond daily admissions, museums count on revenue from parking, cafes, gift shops and location rentals for events. All of that is at a standstill, and leaders of Cleveland museums are trying to guess when businesses will reopen.

“Just from an earned revenue standpoint, we have anticipated no earned revenue… between now and the end of June,” said Kelly Falcone-Hall, CEO of Western Reserve Historical Society, which operates two facilities, the Cleveland History Center in University Circle and Hale Farm & Village in Summit County.

WRHS continues to have security on location and staff feeding animals on the farm, but many part-time workers are without jobs. Falcone-Hall said she’s looking to China and Hong Kong to help her plan for the near future.

“The government run museums in Hong Kong, they had reopened. Now they're closed again, because there's a resurgence in coronavirus cases. So we are all really looking at what's happening in countries that are two or three months ahead of us,” she said.

The upcoming summer months are typically busy ones, particularly at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even though the Cleveland museum had a strong January and February for both attendance and fundraising, CEO Greg Harris said as much as 70 percent of the museum’s revenue comes from onsite activity.

“Our monthly expenses are well over a million dollars a month. And as we go into this window of time with really diminished revenue, we need to look at everything we're doing,” he said.

He is now looking at all of the Rock Hall’s expenses, including staff.

“We also need to acknowledge that, probably, people aren't going to be going to places and gathering in large numbers even when we come out of this. There's going to be a long tail, and we want to build for that,” he said.

At the same time, the Rock Hall is enhancing educational offerings to serve people from home.

 “We used to get about 50 or 60 teachers a day using our resources. Now we're getting 800 and 900 a day using our resources,” he said.

As museums in Cleveland and around the country shift to serve people virtually, they are doing this work without a big safety net, according to Randy Cohen, vice president of research for the national advocacy group Americans for the Arts.  

Based on online survey reponses from arounsd 7,600 arts and cultural organizations in the U.S., Americans for the Arts estimated collective losses of “so far, 3.6 billion dollars, just as a result of the coronavirus,” Cohen said.

Museums are also looking to the federal relief package to make up for losses. Jill Snyder, moCa Cleveland’s director, said she hopes a small business loan will help the contemporary art museum face a $700,000 deficit.

“Because we are applying for the SBA, there will be no layoffs or furloughs. I can't promise that we won’t need to do some short term salary reductions,” she said.

Snyder has been consulting with other area museum leaders, too, as they all grapple with plans for when they reopen. While she said her organization is quite different from Cleveland Museum of Art of the Rock Hall, all of the museums have questions about how people will interact in their spaces upon reopening.

“How are visitors going to behave? Are there are there going to be, you know, sort of continued enforcement about social distancing? Does that mean that we're going to have to restrict the number of people coming into the museum at any time?” Synder said.

Those questions don’t come with immediate answers and are just a few of the many things arts and cultural leaders are now considering.

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