Museum Survivor

Motto: Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival. (W. Edwards Deming)

This is one section of a report from the Center for the Future of Museums. See Museums and Society 2019 for the executive summary and links to the other sections.


Museums have exceeded the carrying capacity of society in 2019. After a decade of concerted effort to tackle the unmanageable number of historic houses in the country, only 1 in 10 remains a nonprofit museum. The rest have been converted to private residences or commercial properties (hotels, B&Bs, boutique shops). Some areas of the country face permanent evacuation due to repeated climate disasters (e.g., New Orleans, Galveston, Florida Keys), and the museums in those areas face closure or relocation.

Help us face this challenge! Add your solutions to the following questions, and pose new questions.

How can museums in areas being abandoned document their dying communities while deciding whether and where to relocate?Edit

What is the best way to decide which museums close or merge? Is it survival of the fittest, or should government, museums’ communities, or funding organizations create a process to integrate decision making?Edit

If your museum is in a vulnerable area, threatened by climate change, evacuation, or extreme economic distress, what are your plans? Would you close, merge or relocate, and if so, where?Edit

We are in New Orleans, and we have no choice but to leave the city. We were not sure until about a year ago that the city would be closing, but about three years ago when things began to be unbearable we started looking for a new home. We are a history museum and we feel as though we can tell history from anywhere and although New Orleans is a critical part of that history it is not central. We will be sure to tell the story of New Orleans in our new home in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, but the history we tell will not be out of place. As a internationally recognized museum I think that we will still have great visitation and be able to bring a great lesson to everyone who comes to see us. We have pared down our collection and we are moving into a smaller, eco-friendly space. We see that although the choices are hard it is better to care fully for a 1,000 artifacts than to provide substandard care to 5,000.

I work on a team of cultural property reconaisance experts and we plan to help cities like New Orleans document and move any collections in immediate danger due to the super threats. Museums who cannot wholesale reclocate to a new city can have their collections sent to the new conservation facility in Pittsburgh. The facility runs off of meager funds provided by the granting progams of the IMLS and National Trust. The teams who work to remove the objects from threatened zone work on a volunteer basis.


After a major earthquake in 2010, San Francisco moved many of its important artifacts to solar powered warehouse storage in the central valley, and its lesser-known or valued pieces were distributed to a network of small, but secure institutions, universities and art centers around Northern California. In the late 90's, San Francisco began 3D scanning and digitally documenting all works in high resolution as part of its disaster preparedness program. After the quake, they began a regular program of projecting images of works on facades around the Bay Area. In 2012, an engineer from San Mateo created a solar powered projection system which the city used well into 2019. There were many instances of graffiti on these projections, which the museum permitted for 1 week, and then covered over. This created a dialog with the local community around the artwork showing in their neighborhood. It began to be a point of inspiration, conversation, controversy, and beauty for the communities it served.

If a former population center is abandoned, does a museum have a responsibility to continue to care for historic structures in that area, especially if the museum itself is leaving?Edit

Responsibility all you want, but money is still needed. Let's focus first on a sustainable future for the museum itself.