A new report from the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) estimates that ASTC museum members around the world have lost more than $600 million in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, almost overnight, every one of the ASTC’s nearly 500 member science and technology centers and museums closed their doors to the public to respond to public health guidance and do their part to keep our communities safe. While all ASTC members have continued to engage their communities through various programs and partnerships over the last seven months—often leveraging digital tools—just over half of ASTC member institutions across the globe have at least partially reopened their facilities. But even among those institutions which have reopened to the public, visitor attendance is only about 26 percent of 2019 attendance data for the same time period.
“Our members are rising to the challenging financial circumstances they face individually—and are meeting those challenges with astounding fortitude and creativity—but these data provide an overall picture of the severe financial impact that COVID-19 is having on science and technology centers and museums ,” said Christofer Nelson, ASTC’s president and CEO. “While public and private support for science centers has been helpful, the relief offered to date pales in comparison to the needs of these critical community institutions.”
The extended closures and significant loss of revenue are having cascading impacts beyond the science centers and museums themselves, affecting their local communities as well. ASTC-member institutions typically welcome approximately 110 million visitors each year, including more than 75 million annual visitors in the United States. These numbers include both individual visits by students, families, and individuals—as well as school field trips, camps, teacher professional development, and off-site events and programs such as school outreach and community festivals. The pandemic prompted nearly all of these events to be halted, prompting a significant loss of in-person science, technology, engineering, math and other (STEM) learning and engagement for people of all ages in communities around the world.
Science centers add significant value to their local economy, employing tens of thousands of staff and engaging a range of local business in providing services and support. In normal years, approximately half of every operating dollar comes from “earned income,” including ticket sales, program fees, and facility rentals—all sources which essentially disappeared during pandemic closures. The loss of revenue has led many science centers to make sometimes deep cuts in operating budgets, including the tough decisions to furlough or permanently eliminate staff positions.
Even with greatly diminished financial resources and smaller staffs, science and technology centers and museums have continued to serve their missions and their communities. For example, ASTC-member institutions are engaging their communities in STEM learning with a range of virtual programs, science-at-home kits, and socially-distant activities. They have supported local schools in developing curricula and producing virtual learning. They have offered their physical facilities, their computing resources, and their equipment to serve local needs—from hosting schools and state legislatures to contributing to the fight against COVID-19 to keeping essential workers safe. And they have supported communities by hosting blood drives, providing healthy food to their community, and offering free childcare to children of essential workers.
To learn more about science centers and COVID-19 visit www.astc.org/coronavirus.
About the survey
The data above are a result of ASTC’s Weekly Attendance and Operations Survey, an ongoing survey project containing a data-benchmarking tool for members to collect and report on their visitor attendance and operational status. The estimate of total losses is based on what is known about ASTC members’ annual operating income, duration of closing, length of reopening, and the percentage of usual visitor attendance since any reopening. You can download an aggregate report of survey data from July and August.
We’ll be highlighting additional data from the aggregate report over the coming weeks. ASTC continues to collect weekly data from its members and expects to release additional summaries and reports as they become available. If you are an ASTC science center or museum member interested in participating, please contact email@example.com.