The LA Times’s Culture Monster blog gave us a neat little window into the paradox facing museums. Endowments are down, putting pressure on operating budgets just as attendance is beginning to rise. We’ve already seen positive numbers on movie ticket sales and European book buying. During an economic rout, the life of the mind gives folks more bang for the buck. At the Getty Museum, the operating budget is going to be cut by 25% but already attendance is up 19%, according to Getty spokesman, Ron Hartwig. Here’s what else Culture Monster’s Mike Boehm has to say:
Hartwig says a new marketing slant emphasizing the park-like surroundings, striking views and architectural grace of the two museums seems to be working, along with a revised weekend parking scheme that has freed up more spaces at the Villa, where parking reservations are required. Also, it doesn’t hurt that, parking aside, admission remains free — something Getty President James Wood says he aims to preserve amid the cuts.
While other museums can at least hold out the hope of being bailed out by a wealthy donor or donors — remember the recent MOCA emergency? — the Getty Trust typically raises less than $1 million a year in cash donations and has not cultivated the gang of go-to philanthropists that other institutions must marshal to sustain themselves. It simply hasn’t had the need, what with its huge endowment generating enough of an investment return, until now, to keep the operation humming.
When then-President Barry Munitz (left) floated a trial balloon about the need to begin vigorous fundraising so as to diversify the trust’s income sources and cushion it against market downturns, his idea got strafed by other museum leaders, who said they were having enough trouble raising the money to balance their budgets without having to compete with the Richie Rich of the museum world.
Getty Attendance Grows as Its Funding Falls (Culture Monster/LA Times)