Galleries, museums soldier on as feds tighten purse strings

Mark Brownlee
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Corporate sponsorships, alternative revenue streams explored

For the past several years, the federal government’s fiscal situation has been the caveat at the end of almost every discussion about the local economy.

Ottawa's National Gallery of Canada.

How, nearly everyone is wondering, will attempts to slow down spending and lay off workers at one of the region’s largest employers affect the city’s key sectors?

The situation at the major cultural institutions supported or directly run by the federal government – the museums, galleries and festivals that make the city a destination for tourists – has been no different.

In recent years, the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Nature have both seen a decrease in their base funding from the federal government, which makes up the vast majority of their income.

But the heads of those institutions remain optimistic they can continue to attract visitors even as they begin to feel the pinch.

National Gallery director Marc Mayer has promised his institution will maintain the same quality of service for customers, even though it has been forced to reduce its spending in certain areas, such as with the elimination of 29 positions in February.

The gallery has tried to focus its reductions on back-office areas of the operation, said Mr. Mayer. That’s why it created seven new positions during the cutbacks, some of which were related to engaging with visitors to the iconic glass building just east of Parliament Hill.

The institution has also tried to find more efficient ways of reaching potential visitors to the city. That’s part of the reason it has put so much effort into its website and social media such as YouTube, he said, while also developing a mobile app for people to use.

“We’re not 100 per cent where we want to be but we’ve got an entirely new website, we’ve simplified it considerably,” he said.

“What we want is to continue investing in it so that Canadians use that website more than, say, an American museum’s website to get their answers about art.”

Meanwhile, the Museum of Nature is trying to strike a greater balance between its earned revenue and the funding it gets from the federal government.

“When you’re heavily funded by your single shareholder there isn’t the same need to fundraise and understand the need for private-sector funds,” said Meg Beckel, the museum’s president and CEO. “So that’s something we’re all doing more aggressively.”

Ms. Beckel said she wants to grow the amount of money the museum brings in from sources such as out-of-town visitors, fundraising and, increasingly, corporate sponsors.

The museum has recently increased the amount of funding it brings in through partnerships with companies such as Boston Pizza.

Other institutions, including the National Gallery, have started to look at this as well. Mr. Mayer said this is the only way to get the resources necessary for reaching out to out-of-town visitors.

“For a non-local audience you’ve got to go out and reach them and you’ve got to go out and promote the program and the collection especially, that this is something you’ve got to see with your own eyes,” said Mr. Mayer.

Organizations: National Gallery, Canadian Museum of Nature, Boston Pizza.Other

Geographic location: Canada, Parliament Hill.The

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