Good morning, everyone. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.
Whether or not museum staff have been able to work on site or museums have been able to reopen varies regionally. We don't yet know the full impact of closures on the future of Canadian museums, but it's estimated that one third of all museums in the U.S. and two-thirds in the U.K. will close permanently.
Museums operate on a combination of government investment, earned revenues and private funding. Their ability to generate revenues is extremely limited at this time. Corporate sponsorships are limited because high-profile activities have been cancelled. Some private funding has been redirected towards pandemic relief. Ironically, the more successful museums have been in reducing reliance on government funding, the more seriously their bottom line has been impacted.
Where possible, museum professionals expect to continue working from home part time post pandemic. Staff who require regular access to collections or visitors have been laid off: registrars, educators and sales staff. COVID-19 has discouraged young people working in museums, while some senior staff are retiring early and others may work longer than expected due to loss of retirement savings.
Museum closures have interrupted relationships between staff, volunteers and audiences. Museums work collaboratively in and with communities, and much of this work, particularly in indigenous and migrant communities, has been disrupted and may need to be rebuilt.
Where they have had the capacity to do so, museums have developed digital resources, providing access to collections online, educational programs, virtual tours, etc. When museums in the U.K. reopened after the first closure, they found that many visitors were new to museums, having discovered them through virtual programming. Where museums have reopened with timed tickets, they now have access to a database of visitors that could be used for audience evaluation.
But not all Canadians have equal access to digital technology. People living in northern and remote communities do not share the broadband capacity of those of us in southern cities. I work in the Arctic, where meetings are held by teleconference due to poor connectivity. Low-income Canadians do not have Internet access at home or multiple computers to allow all family members to go online, as has been demonstrated by the shift to online learning in schools.
It is expected that international tourism won't reach 2019 levels until 2023. A survey conducted by Hill Strategies in May indicates that it will also take years for local visitors to return to museums: only 30% of previous visitors expected to visit immediately when museums and galleries reopen; 15% planned to return between one and five months after they reopen; 12% planned to wait six months or more, until a vaccine is available; and 42% of visitors were unsure when they will return. A follow-up study in August suggests that exhibiting organizations have lost 63% of their visitation and will not reach 2019 levels until at least 2022.
COVID-19 has highlighted other issues that have had an impact on museums. For example, the disparity between rich and poor in society underscores the need for museums to develop programming for marginalized communities. Global social upheaval has reinforced the need for museums to work towards decolonization, respect for human rights and social justice.
In the short term, the museum community would benefit from a dedicated relief fund to support lost revenues and an emergency development fund for digital activities.
In the long term, the sector needs more flexible federal funding, like that of the Canada Council, and investment in operations, including for organizations without staff to allow them to improve sustainability; programming, in addition to collections management and travelling exhibitions; cultural diplomacy, through international heritage practice; and the work of individual museum professionals in the gig economy, where, globally, nearly 30% of independent museum professionals are considering a change in career due to insecurity.
The federal government invests in few of the thousands of museums in Canada. Other levels of government often provide a greater proportion of museum budgets. The only federal funding available to most museums is through Young Canada Works, which, while valuable, could be improved. For example, the two years post-graduation and under-30 eligibility criteria do not reflect the reality of the sector. Young adults are often still looking for full-time work years after graduation, and many graduate after the age of 30.
The duration of the international internship component, with which I am most familiar, should be extended to eight months or a year, because it takes time to get settled and learn how museums work in another country. As the former secretary-general of the Commonwealth Association of Museums, I’ve sent interns to the Caribbean, Africa, the South Pacific, South Asia and the U.K., where they’ve had invaluable experiences that have benefited them personally and our Canadian museums as they diversify audiences and welcome migrants and new Canadians.
Canadian Heritage should focus on the new national museum policy, the need for which was identified in this standing committee's report, “Moving Forward”, and included in the minister's mandate letter. Canadian Heritage also has a role to play in response to the Senate report, “Cultural Diplomacy at the Front Stage of Canada's Foreign Policy”, which largely overlooked the work that organizations like the Commonwealth Association of Museums do, and with investment could contribute to cultural diplomacy.
The world will emerge from the pandemic a different place, and Canadian heritage organizations have an opportunity to be part of ensuring that it is a better place.