Local Museums Fear Closure

By Laura Moore, posted Aug 21, 2020
The Wilmington Railroad Museum has invested time and money into making necessary changes to encourage social distancing and sanitation if it is able to reopen. (Photo c/o Wilmington Railroad Museum)
Gov. Roy Cooper’s recent announcement of the extended phase two shutdown meant keeping the doors of local museums closed for another five weeks.
According to a recent survey from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), one-third of all museums in the United States may face closure because of the COVID-19 crisis. Locally, these museums have lost five months of earned income during their busiest season, leading museum directors to wonder how the bills will be paid.
Now local museum officials are rallying together to reach out to the community with the hope of receiving a lifeline to survive this challenging time.
“We have lost all of our income streams during the busiest time of year when we are used to drawing thousands of tourists to our area and we are closed. We are losing at least $50,000 a month,” said Heather Wilson, deputy director of Cameron Art Museum.
Wilson explained that it’s a dire situation for these organizations, and with “no real clear path to us for city or county funding,” Wilson is anxious to raise awareness.
“Join and become a member; make a donation; share on social media. There is a lot of talk about bars and gyms not being open, but local museums are also closed,” Wilson said. “They are important to who we are in this region.”
“The tapestry of who we are as a country, our history and our diversity will be gone,” if museums are not protected, said Holli Saperstein, executive director of the Wilmington Railroad Museum.
The Railroad Museum has invested time and money into making necessary changes to encourage social distancing and sanitation. With the help of volunteers who happen to be electrical engineers, they replaced many of the buttons in their interactive Children’s Hall with foot pedals.
While their doors remain closed, Saperstein encourages the community to “trust that we are doing everything in our power to continue to make [the Railroad Museum] a safe and wonderful place to visit, and I really hope for their patronage when we reopen.”
In addition, Saperstein suggests purchasing a membership that will begin when they reopen, making any possible donation and reaching out to local representatives to encourage financial support.
“We don’t want to fall through the cracks,” Saperstein said. “Culture is suffering.”
A Snapshot of Museum Impacts Cameron Art Museum
Revenue normally per year: $800,000
Revenue loss because of COVID: At least $300,000
Funding sources: “CAM’s income is 33% earned income, 53% contributions and 14% endowment income,” according to deputy director Heather Wilson.
Impacts this year: “We have cancelled classes, programs, summer camps, a music series and fundraisers. We have closed our cafe and shop. The organizations that rely on us for facility rental space cannot use our facility. We have rescheduled the installation of the United States Colored Troops Public Sculpture Project. Our exhibition schedule has been drastically altered due to the inability to exhibit work to the public. Loan fees [a growing source of earned income] also are impacted because we are not able to loan art to other institutions."
Have you had to lay off staff or eliminate staff positions? “We have had to lay off 75% of our staff. Most of these positions are part time, but many are also full time. The majority of the full-time positions have currently been restored due to qualification for a PPP loan. The sustainability of these positions remains perilous.”
Have there been positives from this pandemic? “We have an incredible community that has really rallied around us by supporting our virtual programs and contributing financially.”
Wilmington Railroad Museum
Revenue normally per year: $180,000
Revenue loss because of COVID: $135,000
Funding sources: “95% of our funding comes from our visitors paying admission or joining us as a member. The other 5% comes from small grants for projects and donations from the public including our Holiday Light Show,” said executive director Holli Saperstein.
Plans going forward: “We are doing everything in our power to look for ways to get through this. Some programs that aid small businesses, such as grants and even loans, nonprofits are not eligible for so we are excluded from that help. We do not own our own building so we need to look for assistance for covering the rent expense. We are not funded by the city, county or state, so we cannot look to those resources. Without new and additional assistance, we face a great deal of uncertainty. We rely on our visitors and they can’t be here with us until Phase 3.”
Have you had to lay off staff or eliminate positions? “Sadly, yes. We have had to lay off everyone who worked with me. I can’t wait to be able to bring them back. They are a wonderful team.”
What are you offering the community currently? “We have stayed in touch via social media with videos, updates, railroad facts, antique photos from our archive and bimonthly storytime.”
The Children’s Museum of Wilmington
Revenue normally per year: $660,000
Revenue loss because of COVID: $185,000
Funding sources: Executive director James Karl broke down the numbers: 29% admission, 23% events/fundraisers, 17% development and donations, 16% grants, 10% membership sales, 5% camps/birthday parties/field trips
Impacts this year: “We have been forced to delay or cancel our three primary fundraisers; collectively they account for over $135,000 or 20% of our income,” said Karl. “We need the community to support the planned ‘virtual’ and in-person elements of some of these [rescheduled] events or we will most certainly have difficulty continuing to do business.”
Have you had to lay off staff or eliminate positions? “Most part-time positions were furloughed. Our limited full-time, and several part-time, resources were retained. This was possibly due to PPP funding we received. However, at this point that has been exhausted, and we are forced to use loan funds to keep some fundraising support going.”
– Shea Carver
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