In late March, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) and Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) launched an online survey, sent via MHT’s distribution lists, website and social media platforms. By the time the survey closed on April 13, we received 224 responses, with nearly 75% of participants representing non-profit organizations. The overall feedback was clear: the COVID-19 public health crisis is having – and is expected to continue to have – a serious and detrimental effect on the financial and programmatic stability of cultural heritage organizations in Maryland. Although many museums and institutions have developed virtual tours and programs to keep people engaged and learning, these measures do not compensate for the loss of event revenue, on-site activities, and the experience of authentic history and public exchange available locally and around the state.
While MHAA and MHT staff are still compiling the full survey report, some key findings include:
- Lost Income. More than 69% of respondents reported they have already lost income, and only 6.3% anticipate that they will make it through the crisis without revenue loss. Losses varied widely by organization, with an average estimate of $61,500 from the beginning of the COVID-19 closures through the survey submission.
- Staffing Cuts. More than 12% of respondents have already reduced staff, and an additional 12.9% have reduced salaries or payroll. Approximately half of respondents indicated that temporary or permanent staff reductions were likely.
- Long Recovery Time. The majority of respondents (57.6%) predicted that recovery of their income streams to pre-COVID levels would take six months or more after the national and state emergency declarations concluded, with 29.5% predicting it would take at least a year.
In response to this dire situation, MHAA automatically extended all grant reporting deadlines by 90 days and took the unprecedented step of allowing current MHAA grant recipients to repurpose project funding for emergency and operating expenses. Other grant programs at MHT, including the Historic Preservation Grant Program and the Certified Local Government Program, worked with grantees to extend existing deadlines and change grant scopes to better accommodate the COVID-19 situation and quickly offer support. The Maryland Heritage Areas Program also launched and concluded its first round of COVID-19 Emergency Operating Grant applications, in which nonprofit heritage tourism organizations within certified heritage areas were eligible to apply for grants of up to $20,000. MHAA received 114 applications requesting over $1.8 million by the May 1 deadline, and a committee of MHAA members are currently reviewing the applications as a batch with the goal of announcing award decisions in mid-May. Subsequent grant rounds will be subject to funding availability and decisions by MHAA.
MHAA and MHT will continue to monitor this situation as it progresses and identify ways to support our constituents. Over time, this may also include training and workshops to help improve institutional resilience overall, as well as disaster and emergency preparedness. We welcome your feedback and ideas as we continue this conversation together.