SAN DIEGO, Calif.— Places that entertain, teach and help us escape are disappearing in cities across the country.
While the latest COVID-19 relief package includes $15 billion in relief for entertainment and cultural institutions, some in the industry say survival is still uncertain.
“There are very few stories of a museum going out of business only to be revived later,” said Laura Lott. “All museums, smallest and largest, are struggling at this time. There’s no one that has escaped the financial hardship.”
Lott is president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of roughly 35,000 museums and museum professionals, from science centers to botanic gardens, zoos, and children’s museums.
AAM has surveyed museums throughout the pandemic, hoping to better understand its impacts. In the most recent October survey, one in three museums reported they were at risk of closing permanently.
Lott says the repercussions of museums closing is three-fold, impacting education and the economy, plus the loss of social good created by the establishments.
“We as a society protect the things, and the stories, and the history that’s important to us in museums, and they’re irreplaceable,” said Lott.
And across the country, improv theaters, comedy clubs and music venues have also been struggling to stay afloat.
“We were just starting to get to where we could sustain ourselves in the new space,” said Amy Lisewski. “It was just ripped out from under us financially. It’s been an absolute disaster.”
Lisewski is the creator and owner of Finest City Improv in San Diego. While they pivoted to online classes during the pandemic, Lisewski says it could never compare to the in-person classes held at their theater.
“Finest City Improv is a place with much more meaning than just making comedy. It’s a group of people that come together as a real community,” said Lisewski.
Like museums, Lisewski says live event venues are difficult to replace once they’re gone.
“The biggest companies and smallest companies have shuddered for good. We were within a week of shutting down. We were heading to clear out the space,” said Lisewski.
But there’s renewed hope for Finest City Improv after a crowdfunding effort and emergency relief from the Save our Stages Act, included in the latest COVID-19 relief bill.
Museums can also apply for stimulus package funding, but it won’t guarantee survival.
“I expect it’s going to be a pretty slow recovery because many museums rely on tourism, which I know is expected to be slow to come back,” said Lott. “And how much they [the public] have become accustomed to accessing museums online.”
Skyler Davis Lee, general manager of Finest City Improv, encourages the public to give support to the venues and institutions they love and have memories of.
“I guarantee if they haven’t closed down, they’re fighting, with everything they have, to keep the place open.”