Science Alliance of Tennessee Voices Concerns About Endangered Museums


Memphis, TN – August 14. 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic is not only endangering the lives of humans, but the livelihood of science museums as we know them. The financial struggles stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have been a primary concern of museum organizations nationwide. One such organization, the Science Alliance of Tennessee, shared the op-ed below about the financial dilemma facing science museums. As a fellow history and science museum, the Pink Palace Museum would like to share the op-ed written by the Science Alliance.

Science museums are fighting for survival amidst pandemic


Among the many stark realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the extreme financial distress in the museum field has reached a critical point. 

A recent national survey published by the American Alliance of Museums1 (AAM) showed an alarming statistic: One-third (33%) of museums were not confident they would be able to survive 16 months without additional financial relief. That means many of our beloved cultural institutions may not survive the pandemic due to extended closures and fewer visitors returning in the foreseeable future. 

The survey also revealed that the vast majority (87%) of museums have only 12 months or less of financial operating reserves remaining, with 56% having less than six months left to cover operations. Forty-four percent had furloughed or laid off some portion of their staff, and 41 percent planned to reopen with reduced staff. 

The Science Alliance of Tennessee, a consortium of six non-profit science museums across the state, is aiming to do better than just survive during these challenging times. With an annual economic impact of $44 million that engaged more than 1.1 million Tennessee students, teachers and visitors, it’s in everyone’s best interest that we continue to thrive. 

Learning institutions such as science centers and children’s museums have a long legacy of mission-driven service to their communities, despite limited funding. We are facing the pandemic’s challenges with determination, examining our role and adapting to the changing landscape. Science Alliance institutions quickly pivoted to produce new online programming that helped families and students stay engaged, with learning activities that could be done at home. In addition, the Alliance has devoted weekly updates to develop and review best practices for reopening to keep our facilities safe for staff and guests. 

Science education is more important than ever, and we must join together to ensure the viability of these institutions. Here’s why: 

  • Museums are economic engines: Economic impact data compiled by the American Alliance of Museums and Oxford Economics shows that the museum economy contributes $50 billion a year to the U.S. economy and generates $12 billion in tax revenue to local, state, and federal governments. 
  • Museums are vital local sources of employment, supporting 726,000 direct and indirect jobs annually across the U.S. Museums play an essential role in the nation’s educational infrastructure, spending more than $2 billion a year on education. The destabilizing effects of the current crisis place the future of these contributions to the U.S. economy and education system at great risk. 
  • Museums have immense support from the public: According to a recent public opinion poll, 96% of Americans would think positively of their elected officials taking legislative action to support museums, regardless of political persuasion or community size. 97% of Americans believe that museums are educational assets, and 89% believe that museums contribute important economic benefits to their community. 
  • Museums are community centers and connectors to rural areas, addressing challenges in times of crisis like the one we are currently experiencing as well as providing “mobile” educational opportunities to underserved populations. 

Now more than ever, cultural institutions such as science museums must be a major focus of philanthropic and government funding priorities. No one wants to imagine a world void of unique spaces that celebrate curiosity, creativity and problem-solving. 

We appeal to area funders to support our museums financially. We ask for those in the community who are able to donate directly or share their experiences with our work on social media. Contact your federal or state representatives and urge them to include museums in funding efforts. 

Together we can overcome these challenges and ensure our communities continue learning and growing into a bright future. 

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The Science Alliance of Tennessee is dedicated to engaging Tennesseans of all ages in hands-on learning opportunities in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and includes the following institutions: 

  • Adventure Science Center, Nashville 
  • Creative Discovery Museum, Chattanooga 
  • Discovery Center, Murfreesboro 
  • Hands-On Discovery Center, Johnson City 
  • The Muse, Knoxville 
  • Pink Palace Museum, Memphis 

Citations: 

1 American Alliance of Museums (www.aam-us.org) “National Survey of COVID-19 Impact on United States Museums.” June, 2020. 

For more information, please e-mail Bill Walsh at bill.walsh@memphistn.gov 


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