Museums Are Big Business

by Toni Tripp
Lakeview Museum

Museums have long understood their educational and cultural value, but only recently have they begun to realize the economic impact on their communities.

Not only educational and entertaining, museums are big business. “One of the figures that we discovered recently is that statewide, museums contribute over $2 billion a year to the state economy. And that's part of the $20 billion that museums pump into the United States economy," says Jim Richerson, president and CEO of Peoria's Lakeview Museum.

According to the Illinois Association of Museums, Illinois museums employ more than 6,400 people, spend more than $570 million on goods and services and serve more than 21 million visitors each year. "Museums are a significant pull to international and out-of-state visitors, and to the many Illinoisans who frequent them," says IAM Executive Director Donna Sack.

Museums are popular. Americans from all income and education ranges visit museums. "What we found is that cultural visitors or tourists actually spend more money—they're the folks who stay that extra night and go to cultural institutions and museums and zoos in a variety of cities throughout our country," adds Richerson, “so they really are the tourists that we want to continue to bring to our community.”

Museums are credible. According to the American Association of Museums (AAM), 77 percent of adult museum-goers view the institutions as “equal or higher in trustworthiness” than any other source of information.

As one of only five downstate museums in Illinois to be affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the Peoria Riverfront Museum will bring a powerful cultural presence to the region—making Peoria a regional destination for visitors and residents alike and providing a significant boost to our economic climate.

A community that offers a rich culture and leisure environment will always attract more visitors and ultimately more talent than a community without those amenities. This project will set Peoria apart from other Midwest cities.

The new museum will also have a tremendous impact on our economic climate. The impact will be immediate—the museum project, along with the Caterpillar Visitors Center, will spur more than $100 million in investments as the entire area is developed. The 50,000-square-foot Visitors Center, funded entirely by Caterpillar Inc., will be a high-tech, interactive look at the company's past, present and future, welcoming area employees, residents and visitors.“The museum project is much more than the relocation and expansion of Lakeview Museum, much more than a new theater and state-of-theart planetarium,” says Richerson. “It's an opportunity to reshape our region and spur growth.”

Together, the Peoria Riverfront Museum and Caterpillar Visitors Center will attract an estimated 360,000 visitors a year, who will infuse $7 million to $14 million into the Peoria-area economy each year, according to Dr. Bob Scott in the Foster College of Business Administration at Bradley University. This will create the opportunity for a halo effect that can diversify our economy and help it grow.

And museums are learning centers, spending more than $2 billion a year on education and providing 18 million hours of instructional programming. A typical museum devotes three-quarters of its education budget specifically on programs for K-12 students.

Museums have been hard hit by the weak economy. This has led to a decline in charitable gifts and reductions in state and local support. Only a small and shrinking percentage of America’s 17,500+ museums receive federal funding of any kind.

According to AAM, private and public funding for museums has decreased, yet attendance has increased. The museum is a place many of us choose to escape our economic worries. Call it a staycation, or simply somewhere to decompress from the day’s stresses. It’s a place for people to seek out and participate in learning—a place that inspires hope and dreams.

There are many ways to support your community museum or fellow nonprofit organizations, in addition to monetary donations:

  • Become a member
  • Volunteer
  • Consider estate planning.

As we venture into the 21st century, museums will continue to affirm their relevance by playing an important role in helping inspire and shape their communities through cultural offerings and providing access to knowledge and information through exhibits and educational programming. iBi

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