I cannot emphasize enough, museums/zoos/aquariums and the like are at an incredibly dangerous point right now, and it’s breaking my heart that not only is it happening, but it’s happening so much more quietly than it deserves. The main people I have seen sharing information about the crisis museums are in right now are others in the field, and while I know it’s not out of malicious ignorance, because people love these places and don’t want to see them gone, it’s scary that these places are dying with so much less fanfare than some of the other institutions threatened by the current situation in the US.
I came across an article from NPR the other day suggesting that unless something changes, ONE-THIRD of museums in the entire country (a loose term that includes certain places like aquariums as well) could be dead before the end of the year (source). A third! Can you even imagine the incalculable loss? And it goes so far beyond the services museums generally provide to the public, like field trips or a place to go on the weekends – not that those aren’t important. But museums do so much more than that. If these places die, where do their collections go? Often there’s no one else who can take them in, and as someone who has spent a significant amount of time in the bellies of museum collections, most people have no idea how many specimens or artifacts would become homeless and in danger of being lost forever. In the case of zoos and aquariums, what happens to their animals? Another friend of mine mentioned on Facebook the other day that the Aquarium of the Pacific is not only in dire need right now, but that a person they know who works with them has said that if they close, they’ll have to euthanize a significant number of their animals. And for the places that do survive, they won’t be unchanged. The science museum I used to work for isn’t in danger of permanently closing – yet – but still had make the incredibly difficult call to do a 39% reduction in staff positions, meaning that even when they reopen, the jobs that I and over a hundred and fifty people held before the pandemic – educating, running programs, engaging with visitors on an extra personal level – won’t exist anymore. Another friend of mine doing a museum studies degree has said that even the Smithsonian (the SMITHSONIAN) had to make a similar call and many of her friends doing work there are now jobless.
Your local museum isn’t getting help from the government. Museums, zoos, and aquariums have had to beg desperately for stimulus money that hasn’t manifested. These are non-profits, that rely on revenue from visitors and memberships for the most part, and as they are responsibly staying closed for everyone’s safety, they aren’t getting visitors. Without some form of help, they are going to drop off the face of the planet, or appear at the other end of this as gutted shells of their former selves.
If you want to help, you have two options: get money into the hands of these places directly, or put pressure on your representatives to offer museums and other institutions like them some kind of federal stimulus money. If you can afford it, this is a great time to get a membership to a place you love – many of them are even offering special online programming for members, so it’s more than just a donation. Or you could make a donation, if that’s a more practical amount for you to spend, because at this point anything helps. And if you can’t do that (or even if you can), yell at your senators and representatives to do something. Many places even are offering guidelines for the sorts of things to talk about, like this script from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (although repetitive scripts are less likely to have an impact than individual e-mails, something is still better than nothing, and you could even read over it to figure out how to formulate your own message).
I’m not usually one to beg people to signal boost something, but it’s breaking my heart that this issue is being ignored. Every day it feels like I have to explain these places are struggling to someone else who didn’t know it was a problem, and while I don’t blame them for not knowing, I want people to know. I want people to be aware that we are at risk of losing some of our most valuable cultural and educational institutions, not find out after all this is over that they’re gone. Please talk with people you know about what’s going on. We need our museums. And right now, they need us too.