To avoid running in the red, the Everson Museum of Art faces a year of austerity and intensive work.
“We as a board and a staff at the Everson Museum will be working double time during 2014 to ensure that we do not have that deficit at the end of the year,” said Sarah Massett, the Everson’s interim director, in a phone interview.
The museum is carrying a $135,000 loss from 2013 and projects a deficit of $500,000 for this year. The $500,000 amount is a potential economic burden that accounts for roughly 20 percent of the $2.4 million reported by Syracuse.com as the Everson’s budget for 2013.
On Jan. 27, the Everson’s board of trustees decided to cancel two upcoming traveling exhibitions in an effort to reinvigorate the museum’s finances. Without the cancellations, the nonprofit’s potential deficit would’ve rocketed to $750,000, say museum officials.
The discontinued shows were “Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums” and “African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond.” Together they would’ve cost around $250,000.
“While exhibitions like the two that we had to cancel bring a lot of attention and interest to the museum, they also have a very high cost,” Massett said. “I would not have been fiscally responsible to continue with the plan to present them without a sure source of funding.”
Massett attributes the 2013 deficit to not accomplishing the fundraising goals for the year. “We were not able to raise the revenue that we needed to close out the year at a zero balance,” she said.
To tackle the museum’s financial challenges, the board of trustees will organize a task force to design a three-year plan for artistic program, financial stability and facilities, Massett said.
The decision of the Everson to cancel two touring exhibitions for this year comes amid a process of reorganization. The museum is looking for a new leader after former executive director Steven Kern left in early February to run the Newark Museum in Newark, N.J.
The Everson’s economic troubles aren’t unusual in the arts world, say museum experts.
Numerous museums across the country are suffering financially, according to the American Alliance of Museums, the national organization for museums, headquartered in Washington, D.C. In a 2013 survey, the group found that attendance grew 5.5 percent on average in 2012. But over 67 percent of museums struggled with economic hardship in that same year. And 35 percent of museums reported a decline in government funding and less than half did not get increased revenue from private sources.
“All nonprofits are going through challenging times—museums are no exception to that. It’s at a time when what little state and federal support of museums is shrinking,” said Dewey Blanton, director of strategic communications at the museum alliance, in a phone interview.
Mark Nerenhausen, director of the arts leadership program at Syracuse University, argues that the museum must reaffirm itself as a valuable asset to the Syracuse community. “The Everson can’t solve this problem on its own. The community has to be there also and they have to understand why they’re important to each other,” Nerenhausen said.The museum makes Syracuse a more appealing place to live and complements the deficiencies in arts education of the school system, Nerenhausen said.
Lisa Romeo, director of communications at the Downtown Committee of Syracuse, agrees that arts institutions attract visitors to the downtown business area, strengthening it economically and culturally. “People who are visiting museums or going to exhibits,” Romeo said in a phone interview, “they’re most likely to go and spend their money in other venues in downtown.”
(Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro is a graduate student in magazine, newspaper and online journalism.)