It’s Wednesday evening and you’ve just come home from work. As you make dinner plans for the night, you realize that you haven’t been to a museum in a while. Excited over the notion of doing something other than dinner and drinks on a weeknight, all while satisfying your artistic craving; you call up your friends.  The meeting time and museum are settled. You’re all set to go. As you grab your house keys, you catch a glimpse of your laptop sitting on the kitchen counter, and decide to check the museum’s visiting fees. And that’s when you see it — the museum closes at 5:45 p.m.

Have you ever wondered why museums don’t stay open late? I know I have. It has always bemused me why they close their doors right when people are getting off from work. After all, isn’t this supposed to be the city that never sleeps? Yet come 5:30 p.m. the warning bell sounds in most museums notifying its visitors that closing time is a mere 15 minutes away.

According to Dewey Blanton, Director of Strategic Communications at the American Association of Museums, financial matters are the core reason why few offer extended hours. And while many of us may silently think that extended hours would fix this conundrum, since more people would be inclined to visit museums on a regular basis, Blanton claims that there is more to it than meets the eye.

“It costs money to keep museums open and secure, and for most museums, less than 8 percent of revenue comes from admissions — couple that with the fact that 37 percent of U.S. museums are free, so extended hours should not be seen as a prime revenue source,” Blanton said.

“However, obviously, extended hours are Exhibit A in terms of public service. But the financial realities in recent years have made this problematic.”

Moreover, according to Blanton, the problem also lies in the limited number of staff members. In large part, most museums do not have enough financial help to employ more guards, guides, and curators to sustain elongated hours for seven days a week.

“With limited funds for operations, many museums cannot support the staff needed to ensure a seven days a week operation, while still giving employees a break now and then,” he said.

The Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York is evidence of this. According to Sally Williams, Public Information Officer at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, due to a financial downturn in 1990, they had to limit the number of days they remained open. What’s more is that recently the museum reevaluated its hours and canceled their involvement in the Art in the Streets project, which is currently on tour.

According to Williams, the problem for the Brooklyn Art Museum also lies specifically in the fact that their location isn’t as traveled.

“Our location in central Brooklyn is not one where there is a great deal of pedestrian traffic during the week, nor are there huge percentages of tourists as there are in Manhattan,” she said.

In addition, due to the recent recession, which hit museums nationwide hard, there were many staff layoffs, hours were shortened and programs were cut – all this to make sure that museum doors would remain open for those who enjoy a bit of art, culture, and education in their life.

But this wasn’t always the case. According to Blanton, the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. used to stay open until 9 p.m. However, as the government support for museums shrank, so did the hours of operation.  And, according to Blanton, those days are gone for now.

“In the last decade public funding of museums in the U.S. has declined from 39 percent of average museum revenue to 24 percent,” he said.

So what does the future hold for museums?

According to Blanton, the future of our favorite museum lies in our hands, as does the possibility of bringing back longer hours of operation. For instance, visitors can address museums with the notion that longer hours would compel them to become a member or make additional contributions.

Another method, which Blanton emphasizes is of more importance, is joining in the efforts of the AAM in assembling museum visitors to boost advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and at all levels of government.

“We admit that the museum field has done a poor job of communicating the value of museums to elected officials at every level of government. AAM and other museum organizations are stepping up our efforts in this area and we seek to enlist our public friends. Members of the public can go to the AAM web site, where with a few clicks they can send a letter to their elected officials supporting public funding for museums,” Blanton said.

“AAM president Ford W. Bell is urging our devotees to write one letter to a public official — be it federal, state or local, to explain to your elected leaders how museums are treasured and essential parts of America’s educational infrastructure,” he added.

When asked if they would ever consider a night of the museums, as done in Poland, where museums stay open 24/7 for two days and are free to the public in an effort to encourage frequent visits, Blanton answered that this was an outstanding idea that they had not previously considered. He added that in recent years their main focus has been on their Blue Star Museums Program, which is designated for military personnel and their families.

“In cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts, AAM is urging all museums to offer free admission to military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day” Blanton said. “We are pleased that we have nearly doubled the number of participating museums in the past two years, but we have a long way to go in meeting our goal.”

And while the AAM does have a long way to go in keeping museum visitors happy, there are several museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art, The Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, who do extend their hours to 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. on specific days of the week or during the summer months. So for those of you who are living or visiting the Big Apple, grab your friends and enjoy what the city has to offer before autumn hits.

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