Managers at the University of São Paulo’s Paulista Museum (MP-USP), better known as Museu do Ipiranga, have invited experts from Canada, Mexico, Portugal, and other countries to discuss strategies that can help Brazilian museums to achieve financial sustainability and address challenges in management. The international conference, set to take place in São Paulo on October 17 and 18, was already being organized before the fire at the National Museum, but the tragedy, and the heightened perception of the neglect and vulnerability of many of the country’s museums, has added a sense of urgency to the debate.
Canadian Norman Vorano, a researcher at Queen’s University who has served as curator of contemporary Inuit art at the Canadian Museum of History, has been invited to speak about the approaches used at university museums in Canada. Home to institutions such the Musée de la Civilization in Quebec, which receives 1 million visitors a year, including 160,000 children, Canada has a strong record on museum sustainability. Last year, around 2,700 Canadian nonprofit museums generated revenues of 2.5 billion Canadian dollars, or R$7.2 billion, with 49% coming from government agencies, 21% from private donations and proprietary activities, and the remainder from admission fees.
These approaches can potentially be used to advantage by Paulista Museum as it implements a major transformation. The 123-year-old building, which has been closed since 2013 due to seepage from the ceilings of some halls, will only be reopened in 2022 on the 200th anniversary of Brazil’s independence, following a modernization and renovation program that is estimated to cost around R$80 million. The museum’s entire collection—comprising thousands of objects, furniture, and works of art of historical importance, many from the nineteenth century—is being transferred to facilities leased by USP, where they will remain until a dedicated building is constructed for storage.
When it reopens, the palace currently housing the museum will be used for exhibitions only. A USP team is assessing options to raise funds for the renovations and provide MP with other sources of steady funding to supplement the annual maintenance budget of R$10 million from the university. “We’re mapping all possible options to secure public and private funding—from government agencies to corporates and individual donors—and to revitalize the museum,” says economist Rudinei Toneto Júnior, a professor at USP in Ribeirão Preto who heads the university’s Partnerships Office, a body created in 2018 with a mission to make private money available for museum projects.
The director of MP, historian Solange Lima, is optimistic about the prospects of renovating the museum through private donations. “Plenty of corporations would be keen to link their brands to Brazil’s most visited museum and an important part of the country’s heritage,” she says. The bigger challenge, she fears, will be getting funding post-renovation. “We are learning from international experience and although there is no single, right approach, it is clear that good university museums tap multiple sources of funding including public funding agencies, endowments, and donation campaigns,” she says.
Lima cites the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University, in the UK, as an example. With a collection of more than 600,000 archaeological specimens, it derives 34% of its budget from the university. Another 40% comes from government agencies, such as the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The rest of its revenues are from endowment funds and commercial activities. “The collections we manage are largely owned by the university, which benefits from our education programs and exhibits of high historical value and social impact,” says museologist Laura van Broekhoven, director of Pitt Rivers. Archaeological museums like Pitt Rivers are somewhat challenged in raising funds, she explains, so the museum has instituted a Risk Fund—a kind of emergency reserve—to cover unexpected expenses and repairs.
While universities and government funding agencies typically support the day-to-day operation of museums, with corporates sponsoring exhibitions, individual donations are an equally important supplementary source of funding for both operating expenses and to help expand collections. In Brazil, however, attracting individual donors is not so easy a task. A survey run in 2016 by the Institute for the Development of Social Investment (IDIS) showed that while Brazilians are no slouches when it comes to giving—77% of respondents had given to a cause or charity in the previous year—they rarely donate to museums. “Brazilians are quick to give when they see an immediate, short-term need: they donate money to people or institutions in dire situations, such as victims of disasters or other types of suffering. But they are less inclined to giving when it comes to long-term programs, such as preserving cultural heritage,” says economist Paula Jancso Fabiani, president of IDIS.
There are exceptions, however, such as the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden (JBRJ). Donations from the nearly 2,000 members of the Association of Friends of the Botanical Garden—who pay monthly donations and get unrestricted access to the visitation area—generated revenues of R$713,000 in 2017 that can be used for repairs or urgent renovations, says the director of the institution, economist Sérgio Besserman Vianna. Revenues from admission fees paid by approximately 650,000 visitors per year and from special events, such as an orchid exhibition that attracted 15 thousand people on a weekend in September, go to the Brazilian National Treasury—the institution is linked to the Ministry of the Environment.
A Smithsonian Institution campaign mobilized 535,000 donors and raised US$1.8 billion in the US
In the US, the Smithsonian Institution, comprising 19 museums in Washington, created a particularly successful strategy for raising money from individual donors. A campaign that mobilized more than 535,000 donors from 107 countries between 2014 and 2018 generated more than US$1.88 billion in private funds, with 93% of donors giving less than US$100. The money will be used toward exhibitions, new additions to the collection, renovations, and education initiatives. There are many different ways to donate to Smithsonian museums. On the Smithsonian website, donors can choose to make one-off or monthly contributions starting at US$35. Donors choose which museum, research center, or institutional program they want to give to. Another option is to become a member of a program called Friends of the Smithsonian, in which donors offer an annual amount of between US$1,000 and US$25,000. In return, they gain benefits that range from exhibition catalogs to dinners with directors and exclusive visits to research centers not open to the public. “The contributions came directly from individuals, foundations, and companies,” says Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas.
Most museums and cultural organizations in the US are funded by a combination of public funds and private philanthropy. “As a national museum, Smithsonian derives 64% of its revenues from the federal government,” says St. Thomas. Announced in March, the institution’s federal appropriations budget for fiscal year 2018 is US$1 billion, US$96 million more than it applied for. In 2017, federal appropriations were US$863 million. Smithsonian opened its new National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016, and is currently carrying out a major renovation of the National Air and Space Museum, which in May received a donation of US$1 million from an airline. With admission free at all Smithsonian museums, other avenues have been created to raise funds, in addition to donations. In 2017, more than US$200 million was generated from proprietary activities such as museum shops, cafeterias, leased space, and theaters. Another US$72 million came from returns on a large endowment fund.
A long-standing patronage tradition explains the success of public and private endowment funds in the US, with beneficiary institutions often drawing only on accrued dividends. Harvard was the first education and research institution in the US to create such a fund, in 1643 (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue no. 219). The income is invested in science programs, infrastructure, and grants. In 2017, 74% of funding for the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) came from such funds. “Federal support for private universities in the US is less than needed for core museum activities, like maintaining collections. Most of Harvard’s funding is from endowments, which is standard for universities like ours,” zoologist Jim Hanken, director of MCZ, told Pesquisa FAPESP.
Endowments have been a subject of interest among Brazilian museum managers for some time, and there are a number of related bills now before Congress. One bill regulates the use of private endowment funds at universities. The bill has cleared the Chamber of Deputies and is now in the Senate. One week after the fire at the National Museum, the federal government issued two executive orders dealing with the management and funding of museums. The first establishes a regulatory framework for raising private funds through endowments. If approved, endowment funds will be a permitted method of raising, managing, and allocating funds donated by individuals and corporates to public-interest programs and projects, a practice not currently permitted for federal public institutions.