Sunday, January 30, 2000

Museum Center on budget target

Improved attendance, memberships help reduction of financial deficit

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Six months after announcing a $2.3 million budget deficit, Cincinnati Museum Center president and CEO Douglass McDonald says the Museum Center is ahead of budget projections. “At this point we're $200,000 ahead of our goal. That's a huge swing from last year.”

        The Museum Center has an annual budget of $14 million. Anticipating a $600,000 deficit for the 1998-1999 fiscal year that ended in July, staff and trustees were shocked to discover the $2.3 million deficit.

        “We were $1.7 million away from our goal,” Mr. McDonald says. Now, halfway through fiscal 1999-2000, the Museum Center budget is “solidly on course” to meeting their goal. “To be on target is a very pleasing position to be in.”

        The goal for fiscal 1999-2000 is a planned deficit of $500,000. At this point, the year is expected to end with a $300,000 deficit.

"Huge unknown'
        The opening of the Children's Museum in November 1998 caused a “huge unknown,” that contributed to the unexpected $2.3 million deficit, Mr. McDonald says.

        There was no way to calculate costs and income until the new facility was in operation for several months. Now, after a year of operation, it is easier to estimate the costs of running the Children's Museum.

        “The Children's Museum is very successful,” causing the Museum Center to go from 13,000 family memberships to more than 20,000. “And these are families, not individual memberships,” Mr. McDonald says.

        The Museum Center is trimming its budget with no programming cutbacks and a reduction of five staff positions, two of which were not filled when they were eliminated.

        “We think we can be creative with our existing resources and reallocated resources to expand programming,” he says. “We're staying very focused on the budget.”

Egyptian windfall
        Programming, attendance and membership are growing at the Museum Center, which comprises the Cincinnati History Museum, the Cincinnati Historical Society, the Museum of Natural History and Science, the Cinergy Children's Museum and the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater. The Museum Center is housed in Union Terminal, which costs $2.5 million annually to maintain.

        The budget was helped by the record-breaking attendance for the exhibition and Omnimax film Mysteries of Egypt, which attracted 373,000 visitors between June and October.

        Attendance figures are good for all of the Museum Center. “Last year we had over a million visitors. Few museums have that level of attendance, and this year we've had 750,000 visitors in the first six months alone. There aren't many institutions that can boast of attracting more than 10 million visitors in their first nine years,” Mr. McDonald says.

        One of the problems in balancing the budget is the Museum Center's huge reliance on attendance. While most cultural institutions rely primarily on grants and gifts, the Museum Center receives 73 percent of its income from admissions and memberships. The national average for similar organizations is 33 percent.

        City and state support counts for only 1.4 percent of the Museum Center's annual budget. Hamilton County contributes nothing.

        Mr. McDonald said the center will concentrate on increasing the number of grants and contributions.

        “We serve over a million people a year. We have a huge community support base of over 20,000 families. We do not serve just one representative group within the community. We serve a diverse community. We really do serve everyone.”

        Beyond serving visitors “we are the people who keep the history of the city of Cincinnati,” Mr. McDonald said. “We are the people who are doing all the exploration and research to find out about prehistoric Cincinnati.

        “The archaeologists are discovering new information about Hopewell Indians and their settlements all the time, the paleontologists are doing work that is being published around the country. There is a real sense of the importance about this institution.”


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