The Science Museum of Minnesota announced today that, due to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial impact, it will reopen later this summer after a five-month closure as a smaller museum, reducing its operations and staff by 39%, affecting 158 employees.
Like so many other businesses and cultural attractions across the nation, the museum closed to the public in mid-March to help slow the transmission of COVID-19. The museum would have welcomed 245,000 visitors during the 129 days it has been closed, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in visitor-related revenue. In addition, other critical work within the museum was paused, putting a temporary halt to scientific research, exhibit development and production for other museums around the world, on-site and in-classroom education programs around the state, equity work with other institutions, the museum’s beloved summer camp program, and more. In total, the museum lost $10M of revenue due to pandemic-related changes to its business operations.
The year ahead promises to be very challenging from a revenue perspective. Based on audience research and learning from arts and culture colleagues around the world, the museum projects 50-75% lower attendance for the foreseeable future, and a likely loss of an additional $20M of revenue during fiscal year 2021. While the museum will access available debt and reserves to cover these anticipated losses, it cannot weather these challenges without a significant reduction to the size of the organization.
As a result, in addition to a smaller staff, the museum will move forward with a modified museum experience, adjusted based on science to ensure the health and safety of visitors and staff, with limited operating hours for members starting in late August. Some programs have been delayed and others have been discontinued. However, most museum favorites will be back, such as the dinosaurs, the mummy, Sportsology, giant screen movies in the Omnitheater, and the RACE exhibition, along with much needed virtual education programs, scientific research, and new ways to engage with scientists, learning resources, and museum experiences.
The Science Museum remains firmly committed to its work at the intersection of science, equity, and education at a time when that work has never been more important. It is devastating to lose talented and dedicated employees who contributed so much to the Science Museum’s success and impact over the years, especially at a time that is already so personally challenging. These incredibly difficult decisions reflect the challenges of moving forward as a cultural organization amid the uncertainty of COVID-19, and the entire museum community - its staff, volunteers, partners, and the people it serves throughout the state and around the nation - will feel these losses deeply.