Museums matter

If you think of museums as rare or irrelevant, you might want to think again. In Central Arizona alone (including Gila, Maricopa, Pinal and Yavapai counties) there are close to 100 diverse museums, according to the Central Arizona Museum Association (CAMA).

Hopi Katsini Doll at The Heard Museum

The largest museums in this region include the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, the Arizona Science Center, the Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum. Not a bad “to do” list if you’re eager to enjoy some boredom busters with your family once school lets out for the summer.

Plenty of folks have discovered the magic of museums. Consider the results of a 2006 CAMA survey revealing that 4.5 million visitors enjoy Central Arizona museums each year.

The survey also notes the economic impact of museums—which at the time of the survey had a combined operating budget of $57 million dollars and a combined number of 762 full-time employees.

Here’s a bit of nifty museum math for you…

Desert Botanical Garden Flashlight Tour

CAMA compared their annual number of visitors (4.5 million) to the total number of attendees at major sporting events during the same period (per the Greater Phoenix Economic Council).

Turns out Central Arizona museums welcomed more people than the Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Coyotes combined.

National studies (reported by the American Association of Museums) show similar findings. Seems there are nearly 850 million visits to U.S. museums each year, but just 478 million attendees at all the country’s professional sporting events and theme parks combined.

Hanging Drum from Japan at the MIM

Now if only we could get our local schools to invest in arts classes and performing arts spaces with the same fervor we’ve long had for sports equipment and athletic facilities.

Museums matter in all kinds of ways.

They inspire us. Cause us to question. Give us reason to pause—or to pick up the pace. They educate us, bring us together, help us heal and offer hope. They help us express the ways we feel unique as well as the ways we strive to be similar.

A more recent study, conducted by AAM in 2009, demonstrates that “a third of US museums are always free to the public” and that “more than 97% of the rest offer discounts, special fee schedules, or free admission days.”

Hands-on activity at Arizona Science Center

Only a small percentage receive federal funding, so admissions fees and contributions are essential to keeping museums alive.

What might we lose in the absence of museums? How about the more than a billion objects our museums protect and preserve each year. Think of it as cultural hoarding—in a good way.

And what have we to gain by their ongoing presence?

The AAM notes that museums nationwide employ “as many as half a million Americans” and “contributed approximately $20.7 billion dollars to the US economy in 2008.”

Arizona Doll & Toy Museum

Museums, according to the AAM, rank “among the top three family vacation destinations.” The U.S. Travel Association reports that “trips including cultural and heritage activities comprise one of the most popular and significant segments in the travel industry.”

Seems they account for 23% of all domestic trips. And that visitors to “historic sites and cultural attractions” stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other types of tourists. Clearly, supporting our local museums is a great way to boost the economy so intertwined with each of our lives.

I don’t suppose they’d let me write in a little something today when I go to cast my vote on “Prop 100”–more support for museums and cultural facilities wouldn’t be a hard sell in these parts, given the way the arts have enriched the lives of each of my three children and our family experiences as a whole.

Arizona Natural History Museum

The U.S. Conference of Mayors considers museums “critical to the quality of life and livability of America’s cities.” The non-profit arts and culture industry generates more than $116 billion dollars in economic activity each year—as well as supporting more than 5.7 million full-time jobs. Reports show that the industry “returns over $12 billion in federal income taxes annually.”

The AAM notes that “governments which support the arts on average see a return on investment of over $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.” Sounds like just the opposite of what happens at my house. For every $7 we invest in our teens, we’re lucky to see even $1 head back our way.

More fun at the Arizona Science Center

Support our local museums. You’ll learn cool stuff. You’ll make fun memories with your kids. You’ll meet other folks who care about arts and culture. You’ll discover neat classes and summer camp options. You’ll support our local economy. You’ll have fun. You’ll make a difference.

Museums matter, and so do you…


Note: Today is International Museum Day, so it’s the perfect time to explore a museum with friends or family. Feel free to comment below to share tips with other readers for enjoying family museum time.

Coming up: How museums contribute to education, Theater camps gear up for summer, Family drama “Broadway” style


One response to “Museums matter

  1. I support Prop 100 and will vote a resounding YES this morning. I hope everyone else will too! It will make a huge difference for education, and will not be a noticeable difference for those who go out to eat, or go shopping for clothing. (1 penny on a $10 check!)

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