- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2010

Many museums across the country saw a spike in visitors during the economic slump last year, even as they experienced increasing financial stress, according to results of a study released Thursday.

More visitors were opting for affordable “staycations,” rather than expensive trips last year, museum officials reported in a study by the American Association of Museums. In response, museums spent more on marketing to local visitors.

The survey of 481 institutions shows that more than 57 percent saw increased attendance in 2009. More than 40 percent saw significant increases, ranging from 5 percent to more than 20 percent, compared with 2008. Less than a third reported decreasing attendance, and one in 10 said attendance was flat.

Museums both large and small reported increases in the study. Science and technology museums were most likely to see an increase in visitors.

Attendance also has gone up during past recessions and in times of crisis, researchers said.

“In times of financial and emotional stress, Americans are looking for reassurance,” AAM President Ford W. Bell said of the findings. “Museums offer affordable, rewarding experiences for families and individuals.”

The findings also follow a spike last year at the Smithsonian Institution, which counted more than 30 million visits in 2009 for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Museums also are struggling financially. More than two-thirds of those in the survey reported financial stress as investment income and government, corporate and philanthropic funding declined.

By AAM’s count, 23 museums closed their doors in 2009, and many others had to cut staff, programming or hours to keep their doors open.

The study found more museums charged for admission last year. But the median price for adult admission was unchanged at $7 - less than the average movie ticket, researchers noted.

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