If we were to poll a random cluster of people with the question “What’s the benefit of having a museum,” what do you think the response would be? Many answers would include words like “cultural asset,” “shared heritage” or “educational opportunities.” It is less likely that people would mention the economic benefits of a museum.
Museums, like most non-profit organizations, are not traditionally seen as economic drivers, but let’s look at the data from the 2017 Museums as Economic Engines report created for the American Alliance of Museums. U.S. museums support more than 726,000 jobs, which is enough to employ all of Washington, D.C. Every job created at a museum results in two additional jobs being created elsewhere in the economy. Archivists must get to work, conservators need to send their kids to school and registrars have to pay their electric bills.
This economic ripple continues when you look at the money museums bring to their communities. Every dollar of revenue created at a museum generates $2.20 in other areas of the economy. Museums, large and small, are constantly using funds to maintain buildings, host events for the community and create new exhibits. The result is a contribution of 50 billion dollars to the American gross domestic product. That’s roughly the GDP of the entire state of Alaska.
It might be time to view the benefit of a museum beyond its walls. These organizations are financially supporting their community while simultaneously preserving our shared cultural heritage. They are paying local contractors to make their space accessible to a wider audience. They hire interns from local colleges to learn about digitizing collections. While museums are indeed a cultural asset, they are also an economic asset.