The long-troubled Corcoran reports a deficit of $7.2 million for the fiscal year that ended in June 2011 and estimates it would cost $130 million to bring its beaux-arts building up to modern museum standards. The remaining three private museums have balanced budgets, or a small deficit, and need no major repairs on their own historic buildings.
But they, like museums nationwide, were hit hard by the recession that began in 2008. Unlike the national museums, which get appropriations from Congress for salaries and benefits and upkeep, the private art museums have to take those expenses out of their operating budgets.
Most art museums say their financial pictures have stabilized since the hard hits of the recession. Reflecting this positive trend, 63 percent reported an increase in revenue in 2012, attributed to more giving by individuals, according to the Association of Art Museum Directors. In 2009, only 31 percent reported an increase .
This turnaround from four years ago — when museums were struggling with stock market chaos, foundation decreases, state and federal government cutbacks, and declining donations — presents an encouraging outlook.
The Phillips, Kreeger and Women in the Arts museums survived relatively unscathed because they have little or no deficits and could reorganize their spending. Modest cutbacks worked. And their benefactors donated generously, realizing that fundraising for arts organizations was usually the last to recover from a recession. Also, they are much smaller organizations than the Corcoran in collections, staff and upkeep.
The Phillips, opened in 1921 by steelworks heir Duncan Phillips to showcase modern art in his Dupont Circle house, attracts about 140,000 people a year. Its fundraising is modest with a yearly average of $12.5 million over the last five years. Earnings from a $34 million endowment provides 16 percent of its annual budget of $11.6 million.
Like the Corcoran and other arts institutions, it received a blow in 2010 when the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program reduced its unrestricted money to D.C. organizations. Although the Phillips received 3.5 percent of its operating budget from the fund, individual gifts have made up for the loss.
The Kreeger was founded in 1994 to display the collection of businessman David Lloyd Kreeger, and is housed in his private estate on Foxhall Road. Operating on a $1 million budget a year, it raised approximately $352,000 last year and received $500,000 from the Kreeger Foundation. Its challenge, says Director Judy Greenberg, is donors believe it doesn’t need any additional money because of the largesse of the Kreeger Foundation. The foundation does make up any shortfall, she says.