PHOENIX, Ariz. — Due to the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 30 percent of museums in the United States remain closed and most do not have plans to reopen in the near-term, according to a new study conducted by the Association of American Museums (AAM). Of the 850 museums that participated in the survey, 98 percent closed to the public last year and museums that have opened are experiencing 35 percent of normal attendance. 

According to the survey, individual museums through October lost about $850,000 in revenue in 2020 due to the pandemic. By the end of the year, directors anticipate losing the equivalent of 35 percent of their annual operating income.

All areas of the economy in Indian Country have taken a toll as a result of the pandemic, especially the arts. The halt in tourism has severely undercut the economic livelihoods of American Indian artists and their communities throughout the nation. The largest Indian art markets in the country have been cancelled, postponed or switched to virtual shows and museums and galleries have largely closed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“The financial state of U.S. museums is moving from bad to worse,” said AAM President and CEO Laura Lott in a press release. “Without financial help, we could see thousands of museums shutter forever.”

Although museums in Indian Country are open, some remain closed. The Oneida Nation Museum (Oneida, Wis.), Forest County Potawatomi Cultural Center & Exhibit (Crandon, Wis.),  and the White Mountain Apache Cultural Center and Museum (White Mountain Indian Reservation, Ariz.), are some that are currently closed with no reopening date in sight. The Mille Lacs Indian Museum & Trading Post (Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, Minn.) is scheduled to reopen on June 2, 2021. The Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in Pendleton, Ore. is partially open. Its museum store and café are open, but not its exhibits, which are scheduled to reopen on May 7, 2021.

“Covid-19 has clearly illuminated the inequities in our society and we are increasingly concerned that the museums that represent communities of color are too experiencing disproportionate financial stress,” said Laura Lott in email to Native News Online. “As we begin to recover, these institutions’ sustainability needs to be a focus to help reduce the harm done to those most severely impacted by the pandemic.”

Museums and art galleries have had to come up with creative ways to drive revenue in the midst of lower attendance. Many museums have offered discounted memberships, free admissions, unique sponsorship opportunities and have created virtual exhibitions and art shows, including the Heard Museum in Phoenix, as well as others. 

“The private sector has a role to play in keeping the arts thriving in our communities and our communities thriving through the arts – more so now than ever – and companies like Bank of America are finding creative ways to stand by local museum partners,” said Heard Museum Director of Communications Todd Vigil to Native News Online.

The Heard Museum recently announced a corporate sponsorship provided by Bank of America. The partnership is a combined effort to keep arts alive and thriving and to support a cherished museum that showcases the arts and culture of America’s first peoples, said President of Bank of America Arizona Benito Almanza. “The Bank (of America) has always had an affinity towards the Heard Museum because of the support they have for our Native American community and culture,” Almanza told Native News Online. “The Heard Museum isn’t just a local museum, it’s world renowned with its visitors coming from all over the world to visit its exhibits.” 

Bank of America created a new digital initiative coined Masterpiece Moment, which showcases works of art in the collections of 25 of its museum partners through video vignettes – highlighting important works of art from a range of perspectives and mediums and offering a pathway for communities to experience museums during the pandemic. 

“Nationally, Bank of America recognizes that art is a great tool for the community,” Almanza said of its sponsorship. 

Bank of America has been a strong supporter of the Heard Museum, longer than Almanza has been state president of the bank, “which has been at least 20 years,” he said. Previously, the bank has underwritten a conservation program in 2015 that funded the restoration of eight iconic sculptures by notable American Indian artists through Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, which included “Earth Song” by Allan Houser. The sculpture depicts an Apache man singing a song of respect, a prayer to Mother Earth by Houser, who is considered by many as the grandfather of contemporary Native American sculpture. 

The new sponsorship will highlight the restoration of Houser’s “Earth Song” in a video vignette hosted by Heard Museum CEO David Roche. 

“Bank of America’s exceptional support at one of the most challenging times in the Heard Museum’s 91-year history has inspired us and also made it possible for us to continue serving the community we love,” Roche told Native News Online. “Their support enabled us to bring masterpieces to the Arizona community.”

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About The Author
Author: Darren Thompson
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a freelance journalist and based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where he also contributes to Unicorn Riot, an alternative media publication. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.