The Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) has been hit twice.
Unlike the recession of 2008, when the museum was still open for business, MMA, like other attractions across the state, has been temporarily shut down as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Executive Director Betsy Bradley estimates the museum is losing around $100,000 a month in revenue, funds that she’s not sure how the nonprofit will be able to make up. The museum closed in mid-March
The COVID-mandated closure has been worse on the museum than the previous downturn in the economy, she said. Then, the museum’s endowment revenues dropped, but at least patrons were still coming through the doors.
“Our endowment wasn’t generating any revenue we could use. Now, we have that situation, plus we can’t open,” she said. “It’s kind of a double-hit.” The closure couldn’t have come at a worse time. The museum’s doors were shuttered right before the opening of “Van Gogh, Monet, Degas and their Times: The Mellon Collection of French Art.”
The exhibit, part of the Annie Laurie Swaim Hearin Exhibition Series, is a major draw for the museum, both in terms of attendance and revenues.
It features 74 pieces by artists including Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet and others.
The exhibition is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation, which provides the majority of the exhibit’s costs, excluding marketing, art shipping fees and insurance.
The opening would have been marked with a major gala in early April. Corporations also were expected to rent the facility for private events, which would have allowed attendees to view the art after hours.
The most popular Hearin exhibit, “Old Masters to Monet,” brought in 60,000 people when it ran in 2018.
“We expected to match that,” Bradley said.
The museum recently announced that it had received an extension on the show, meaning that Van Gogh’s and Monet’s works will hang in the museum through January 10.
However, even an extension of the show won’t make up for lost revenues.
The opening gala, for example, won’t be rescheduled. “We don’t have a timeline when it will be safe to have that many people in one place at one time,” Bradley said.
As for other events related to the Hearin exhibit, Bradley said it’s unclear if and how those events will go on. “We don’t know when we will have public programs and events again, but it clearly won’t be this summer.”
To help make ends meet, the museum has applied for and received a payment protection program (PPP) loan through the Small Business Administration.
The loan, which can be forgiven if it is used to cover employee pay, rent and utilities, was part of one of several coronavirus stimulus packages passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.
“It’s enough cover payroll for two months,” Bradley said. “We have 32 full-time employees and several part-time.”
No employees have been furloughed, thanks, in large part, to the PPP loan.
Said Bradley, “We’re committed to keeping people on as long as we can.”
MMA has an annual budget of approximately $5 million. Funds come from the museum endowment, grants, fund-raising, ticket sales, gift shop sales, gala attendance and the like.
The director wasn’t exactly sure how the museum would make up losses associated with coronavirus but said efforts likely would include seeking grant funding and possibly applying for more PPP funding if it becomes available.
“We are turning over every rock to see what assistance is out there,” she said.
Bradley pointed to the fact that other museums are facing similar dilemmas.
Officials with the Charles Dickens Museum in London were worried that the museum couldn’t survive past September if social distancing guidelines are kept in place, according to an April 29 New York Times article.
Stateside, the CBS News reports that the Association of Art Museum Directors has given affected museums permission to sell pieces to help cover the bills.
The CBS article goes on to state that museums are typically discouraged to sell art to cover operations, and only have been “encouraged to sell artwork if the proceeds enhance a larger collection.”
“Estimates are worldwide that 20 percent of museums may close,” Bradley said. “We’re working really hard to seek out funding, raise money and get people in as soon as we can.”
The museum is scheduled to open the first of July.