Special exhibitions are the bread and butter of the museum world, but the finances behind them remain largely opaque. New research from UK-based exhibition matchmaking start-up Vastari, which connects museums with private collectors and commercial exhibition producers, aims to bring more transparency to this secret market, says the company’s managing director, Bernardine Bröcker Wieder.

The Exhibition Funding: Market Size Analysis report is based on online and telephone surveys of approximately 500 museums in Vastari’s database between August 2017 and July 2018: 62% institutions artistic and 38% scientific, mainly from Europe (50%) and North America (41%). Data aggregation and analysis was led by Lindsay Dewar of London-based art market research firm ArtTactic, who previously contributed to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report and the Tefaf Art Dealer Finance Report.

Asking about museums‘ preferences for hosting and touring performances and their exhibition budgets, the survey grew out of Vastari’s regular customer service process, says Bröcker Wieder. “Museums are constantly approached by exhibit producers with content that is irrelevant. We started asking these questions so as not to annoy them. Then we realized this was the knowledge the market needed. A first version of the Exhibition Finance Report was published last October at the same time as the Vastari Global Report, which focused on the logistics of museum exhibitions.

The new research, on which Vastari collaborated with ‘one of the big four’ consultancies, puts the annual cost of temporary exhibitions around the world at $5.9 billion, encompassing around 140,000 exhibitions, seven per year in the some 20,000 museums accredited by ICOM (International Council of Museums). For comparison, the latest Global Art Market Report from Art Basel and UBS puts the global art market in 2018 at $67.4 billion.

Despite the multi-billion dollar valuation, the report’s most startling finding is that “a huge proportion of arts institutions are working on a micro-budget” for exhibitions, says Bröcker Wieder, with 39% citing less than 10 000 dollars per exposure on average. Only 7% landed in the “high budget” category of over $100,000, compared to 23% of science museums, even though art exhibitions tend to involve higher value objects and greater logistical complications . The reasons for this disparity are a matter of speculation, says Bröcker Wieder, adding that declining public investment in the arts could play a role.

Overall, Vastari calculates the average museum budget for hosting a three-month exhibition at a “sobering” $58,000 (split between $44,750 for art and $80,000 for science) – “far lower than what the industry expects people to spend”. Yet smaller institutions — defined as occupying 4,100 square feet to 9,750 square feet — also reported the largest range between their average and maximum budgets, suggesting a willingness “to stretch their budget in order to get the right show. “, says Bröcker Wieder. “They have to compete for audiences and are probably very dependent on fundraising as well.”

Participating museums were not asked to provide figures for marketing, shipping and insurance, she says, because the study was aimed at determining the cost of exhibition content, such as loan fees. and partnership agreements. The company’s focused approach and the anonymity of the final report encouraged institutions to share financial information that would normally be confidential, she believes.

Many museums were less open to the idea of ​​partnering with trade show producers. About half of medium- and high-budget European museums surveyed – and more than 40% of fine art venues – said they collaborate exclusively with other non-profit institutions for traveling exhibitions. Overall, Vastari concludes, the sector remains “traditionally non-commercial”. Generating a profit ranked notably below institutional exposure and expanding audiences among the motivations that museums provide for organizing exhibitions.

Bröcker Wieder concedes that “the marketing of [exhibition] content risks diminishing intellectual significance,” but says art museums could “think more strategically about cost-effective routes to content,” drawing inspiration from the more collaborative approach of scholarly institutions. . “They share a lot of exhibits, which frees up resources to focus on the educational elements because they spend less time securing content.”

Online access to the study is free for participating museums, but otherwise costs £3,780 (€4,320 or $4,860) for one year, or £350 (€400 or $450) per month. The data has allowed Vastari to better adapt its matchmaking, explains Bröcker Wieder, for example by identifying on its online platform which museums are ready to host traveling exhibitions.

The company is currently translating its survey into Mandarin and Arabic in preparation for compiling other reports on museums in Asia and the Middle East. “The aim is to raise awareness of the differences between the markets,” says Bröcker Wieder.

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