Memorial Art Gallery on COVID shutdown: ‘Long term sustainability’

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Many businesses are having difficulty right now, especially restaurants, and venues. Non-for-profits like Memorial Art Gallery are having difficulty as well, though their message is clear, that sustainability is clear.

National and local economies are getting hit hard right now, but as is cultural life. As MAG sits between those two, we caught up with the museum to see how they can survive the shutdown, and how people can help.

Director of the Memorial Art Gallery, Johnathan P. Binstock says that it’s a difficult time to ask for membership and financial support, but would welcome it if it comes. More than anything else, he is asking people to share the word, and react and share on social media what the MAG is doing.

He also joined us to answer some questions. If you want a more specific breakdown, you can examine their yearly report here.

Normally, how is revenue generated at MAG?

Through a number of means, memberships, admissions, renting space for events. Largely individuals contribute — give money to the MAG to pay for the programs that we do.

We also have an endowment that produces money annually, to help support operations and programs…

It’s a rather complicated institution. We have so many kinds of expenses, but we also have a lot of ways to raise money. We charge for some programs, some are for free, we raise money for foundations, some government resources, individuals and corporations…

It’s like looking at a 64-track mixing board. We’re trying to move as many levers as we can move to — on the expense and revenue side — to make sure we come out at zero.

A non-for-profit institute isn’t for profit, but it’s not for loss.

How tight is the budget on a normal year?

Fortunately, the MAG doesn’t hang on a precipice. It’s not about survival, at any given moment.

It is, always about long-term sustainability.

It’s being being strong indefinitely, so this place will always be here for the people of Rochester. That really means not losing money on an annual basis, and setting yourself so you can weather rainy days. But…

Every year is a nail-biter. Every year is a sled race to the bottom. When we can to the bottom of the hill — and we haven’t hit any trees — we’re feeling pretty good. But at the beginning of the year, we can ride our sled and do it again.

Getting to the budget is always a squeeze, always by the skin of our teeth, it’s never an assured thing.

That’s standard for MAG, and a lot of cultural organization in the US.

So how is this all affecting you?

A lot of these decisions are made for us. We’re not accepting the public anymore, so there’s no admission revenue coming, we have to extend memberships…

We’re going to take it one day at a time. We’re thinking about the safety, security of our staff and volunteers, patrons. And making sure that everyone has work to do, and that we can keep paying everybody.

Folks who can work for home are going to do so more and more. For folks who can’t, we’re working hard to identify what they can do from home. Maybe (someone) can take a webinar to learn about their job…

We’re trying to be creative (on how to) make the best use of this time. It’s all sad and regrettable. On the other hand, maybe there’s a silver lining where we can do things we’ve wanted to do but haven’t had time for. Maybe it’s cleaning and disinfecting the whole facility, maybe it’s taking inventory… There’s a lot we can think about.

Will the museum be the same when people come back? Will anything happen to the art?

We do not sell out art if it pertains to our mission, if it’s art we can use, if it’s relevant to our programming… We acquire it and keep it forever.

The money we get from selling art can only be used for getting art.

We are taking this time to batten down the hatches, shore up the place, and strengthen it. It’s going to be an incredibly challenging time financially, no question about it.

I think that part of it takes to steward an art collection, and to steward a conversation.

Binstock says that when people come back, they can check out their newest piece, Cloud Prototype No. 2, made in 2006 by Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. It’s on display in the Pavilion.

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