Updated COVID-19 Survey Results: Maryland’s Cultural Heritage Organizations Continue to Struggle

One full year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland’s cultural heritage organizations continue to suffer from the economic fallout of the crisis. The Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) and the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) are eager to understand the situation and find ways to support our partner organizations across the state. To that end, MHAA and MHT conducted two surveys, one in April 2020 and one in March of 2021. Both sets of survey responses highlight the severe economic ramifications that organizations have suffered to date, as well as the respondents’ expectations that these ramifications will linger even after the public health crisis starts to subside.  

When compared to the data from last year’s survey, the March 2021 survey respondents reported  an increase in every metric. Organizations have lost more income, laid off more staff, and expect to need a longer recovery time. 

The clearest impact of the pandemic has been on organizations’ income. Many of Maryland’s museums, Main Street businesses, and other heritage sites rely on visitation and events for the majority of their revenue. With the pandemic starting in early spring, these sites were shut down during the fair weather months, when they typically see their highest visitor count. Even as the state begins to re-open, many organizations are seeing smaller than average crowds. Small museums, historic homes, and local historical societies are some of the hardest hit organizations.  

This trend is reflected in the data, with four out of five respondents reporting a loss of income due to COVID-19 and with over 75% of respondents stating that their “income had decreased substantially.” This loss represents an increase of over 25% from last year’s survey. To account for this loss, 38% of organizations surveyed have had to tap into their financial reserves and 73% have considered a temporary or permanent reduction in staff.   

When compared to last year, organizations now expect a longer recovery time. When asked how long they would need to return to  pre-pandemic levels of revenue, 70% of organizations said they would need 6 months or longer and 44% of organizations said they would need 1 year or longer. Some organizations commented that the prolonged economic strain of the virus had significantly reduced their capacity while others feared a loss of relevance and community connection as a result of the shift to digital programming. Even with vaccines rolling out and the end of the pandemic potentially approaching, it is clear that the effects of COVID-19 will continue to challenge Maryland’s cultural organizations for some time to come.   

MHAA and MHT are taking several actions to help our partner organizations  continue their important work in a post-pandemic world. For their current grant round, MHAA will allow grantees to use up to $20,000 of their awards for COVID-19 related operating costs, and MHAA has provided over $1,018,453 in direct aid to date. MHT and MHAA will also host a listening session on Friday, June 4th at 9:30am,where members from partner organizations will be invited to discuss their challenges and successes during the pandemic. The listening session will give MHAA and MHT a fuller picture of our partner organizations’ struggles and allow attendees to share their experiences – and perhaps tips for adapting to our new realities – with each other. For more information on the listening session, click the link here: https://bit.ly/3vlbm5l 

Before the pandemic, MHAA and our partners generated $2.4 billion in economic impact and supported  over 33,000 jobs annually . Even as the pandemic made indoor activities unsafe, visitors continued to seek out Maryland’s outdoor heritage tourism experiences. Maryland State Parks reported record numbers of visitation for 2020. As this data shows, the demand for heritage tourism experiences remains high and Maryland’s cultural heritage organizations will continue to be economic drivers after the pandemic. We recognize that it is more important than ever to support our  partner organizations during this difficult time, and we are committed to protecting Maryland’s history and culture and making it accessible to visitors into the future.  

To join our round-table discussion and share insights on the effects of the pandemic on the heritage tourism field, please be sure to sign up for our listening session here: https://bit.ly/3vlbm5l

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