Museums Explained






Since time immemorial, beautiful art

has provided food for the soul.

Support museums to bring art's sustenance to the people.


Admissions usually provide only a small fraction of the funds needed to maintain the mission of a museum. About 20% of museums' income from operations is derived from general admission fees. Government and private grant support in recent years has declined. Support from patrons is therefore more important than ever. Support your local museum. Volunteer service is also critical for museums to provide effective service in the community. As Tom Lidtke explains in his article on the intrinsic and unique value of museums:

Museums are truly priceless, but they are not free. They require our financial support. Most museums have always done a fine job of resource management, but today, museums like most other nonprofit organizations, have begun to examine if and how they can do better. They have to, or they will not succeed in their mission to serve the better good of society.
Recent problems with wasted tax dollars and the rapidly rising costs of some economic sectors has caused major donors and nonprofit granting organizations to be far more demanding when it comes to accountability, efficiency, value and results. This is a good thing. It makes these organizations, including museums better, but it takes time away from the core mission of the organization. That is a necessary downside.


Before making a major financial commitment

Individuals who are considering a financial commitment to a museum beyond annual giving may ask to see the museum's annual report. If there is minimal financial information in the annual report, donors can ask to see the Form 990 submitted annually by each nonprofit organization to the Federal government. The Form 990 contains financial statements, lists of trustees and key employees plus other operating information.

A commonly used source for retrieving a museum's Form 990 is GuideStar, a non profit organization which says on its web site "GuideStar's mission is to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving." (right: image courtesy GuideStar)

Another source for guidance in donation decisions is Charity Navigator. A quote from the non profit service's web site says: "Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation's largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. In our quest to help donors, our team of professional analysts has examined tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents. As a result, we know as much about the true fiscal operations of charities as anyone. We've used this knowledge to develop an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess the financial health of over 5,000 of America's best-known charities." (right: image courtesy Charity Navigator)



In an October 2004 article in Art Museum Network News titled "Defining Success in Art Museums," Maxwell L. Anderson, Research Affiliate at the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University expresses his opinion of the core mission of art museums:

I believe that art museums are first and foremost educational institutions. By that I mean that they are to their detriment places that privilege entertainment over learning. I further believe that the rewards of acquiring, caring for, publishing, interpreting, and displaying an art museum's permanent collection are more significant and longer-lasting than those of staging temporary exhibitions. And lastly, I believe that those museums that attract ample contributed income are healthier and artistically freer places than those that rely too extensively on earned income from tickets, merchandise, and events.

Dr. Anderson's words underscore a trend for some museums to take on attributes of entertainment centers, which he believes may prove disadvantageous to museums' long term health. He calls for museum leaders to develop " metrics of success that more accurately measure their museum's long-term health and relative standing. In order to be worthy of adoption, these new metrics must have three attributes: Be directly connected with the core values and mission of the art museum; be reliable indicators of long-term organizational and financial health, and be easily verified and reported."

In discussing a survey which addresses questions museums face, Dr. Anderson quotes from one of the survey questions defining a positive visitation experience: "...An intangible sense of elation -- a feeling that a weight was lifted off their shoulders; a greater appreciation of specific works of art or a period or movement; an improved understanding of why some artworks are more valuable than others; a desire to return to the museum in the not-too-distant future."

Without diminishing museums' multi-dimensional role to "...preserve, enhance, interpret, research and extend the reach of collections on behalf of society, provide public service through education, display of art works, scholarship and related activities..." TFAO agrees that accomplishment of these visitor outcomes will bode well for museums' mission fulfillment and long-term community support.


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Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. (TFAO) neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

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