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

Exploring Heritage Outdoors: Safe and Exciting Ways to Enjoy Maryland History

Image courtesy of Mountain Maryland Gateway to the West Heritage Area

As the weather cools down and the leaves start to change, turn to your local heritage area for exciting, educational, and socially distanced outdoor activities. From beautiful trails and exhilarating hikes to historic tours and scavenger hunts, Maryland’s heritage areas are sure to have something for you. All thirteen of Maryland’s heritage areas have resources that can bring their residents closer to the nature, history, and culture that makes our state unique.  

From the marshes and wetlands of the Southern Maryland Heritage Area to the cliffs and bluffs of Patapsco Heritage Greenway, each area offers an authentic and local experience in nature. Trails like Port Tobacco and Indian Head in Southern Maryland can bring hikers face-to-face with herons, turkey, and even bald eagles.  

Image courtesy of Mountain Maryland Gateway to the West Heritage Area

For the more adventurous, the Mountain Maryland Gateway to the West Heritage Area, Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway, and Patapsco Heritage Greenway all offer miles of trails open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. State parks like Deep CreekSusquehanna, and Patapsco deliver breathtaking views and exhilarating journeys for hikers and bikers of all skill levels.   

Maryland’s heritage areas also offer a plethora of outdoor resources to get in touch with local culture and heritage. Residents on the Eastern Shore can enjoy self-guided tours through historic Cambridge in the Heart of Chesapeake County Heritage Area and Salisbury in the Beach to Bay Heritage Area. From the local families that built these towns to the role of waterways in developing local economies, these tours explore the trends of Maryland’s residents along the bay and coast.  Nearby residents can also enjoy the diverse cultural sites contained within the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area , including the well-know Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Residents of central Maryland have easy access to just as many great outdoor resources. The Baltimore National Heritage Area contains dozens of historic neighborhoods, from the colonial streets of Fells Point to the 19th century remnants of Little Italy. Those looking for an outdoor escape in Baltimore City can enjoy a variety of spectacular green spaces, such as Patterson Park. Located on the sight of the Battle of Hampstead Hill, the park boasts ample outdoor amenities and colorful heritage resources like the Patterson Park Observatory and the Pulaski Memorial.  

Image Courtesy of Patapsco Heritage Greenway

For those closer to Washington, DC, Heritage Montgomery offers great outdoor cultural sites like Glen Echo Park. While many of the park’s indoor classes and exhibits are on hold, the site is still celebrating the unique heritage and art of Marylanders. Nearby, at Maryland Milestones, guests can enjoy a walking tour of downtown Hyattsville, visiting a number of sites included on the National Register of Historic Places.  

Maryland’s western heritage areas also offer outstanding resources. From Heart of the Civil War to Canal Place, these heritage areas boast sites that can help visitors experience the storied past of our state. South Mountain, Antietam, and Monocacy are all open to visitors and offer exceptional self-guided tours. Canal Place’s C&O Canal offers miles of beautiful hiking along the former water highway that connected our nation to the West. Both of these sites are great opportunities to walk in the footsteps of Marylanders past and learn about our shared history. 

Image courtesy of Mountain Maryland Gateway to the West Heritage Area

Of course Maryland’s capital offers equally great ties to the past. Guests to the Four Rivers Heritage Area can explore the early history of our state by taking walking tours of downtown. While many of Annapolis’s museums, restaurants, and stores may be closed, the culture of our state’s capital lives on in the city’s architecture and parks. Guests can explore historic streets that remain largely untouched since their creation. 

Some of our most popular museums may be closed, but so much of Maryland’s heritage exists outside of the museum. From our natural environment to the cityscapes around us, our state is full of unique and fulfilling opportunities. To learn more about what’s available near you, check out your local heritage area or visit: https://mht.maryland.gov/heritageareas.shtml For those looking for more outdoor walking activities, check out the Maryland Department of Transportation’s outdoor initiative, Walktober: http://www.mdot.maryland.gov/walktober