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Museums lose their benefactors

VIENNA'S Albertina Museum, home to landmark Impressionist works by Monet and Renoir, can count the cost of the financial crisis so far as 2 million euros (US$2.7 million) ?? that's the amount of funding pulled by some of its most generous sponsors in the past three months.

Museums and other cultural institutions globally are being pinched, scaling back exhibitions and cutting staff to cope with shrunken endowments, thriftier benefactors and cuts in state funding. Some are closing.

"It's going to get harder and harder," said Elizabeta Petrusa Strukelj, head of European museums network NEMO.

"Museums have been at the back of the queue for government money for years, so we know how hard it is already. But the crisis will have an impact on the whole field and on our culture," she said, pointing to unfulfilled plans for national museums in Slovenia as just one example.

The Albertina serves to illustrate how the financial crisis is reversing a trend of museums globally that have been riding a wave of private sponsorship to grow. Its 200-year-old collection, including works by Pablo Picasso and one of the world's biggest sets of drawings, had benefited from the boom as the wealthy poured in donations.

Held up as an example of a successful business-minded gallery, its exposure now to the private sector has hit hard. "The financial crisis has affected us enormously," Director Klaus Albrecht Schroeder said from his office in the neoclassical palace, rebuilt after the World War II bomb damage.

Small pool

"We have less than 100 major patrons ... and they are definitely affected by the economic and financial crisis."

Like many European museums and galleries which receive state money, the Albertina also relies on a small pool of donors to help fund exhibitions and maintain its art collection. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles nearly had to close until a billionaire philanthropist stepped in last year with a US$30 million rescue plan.

In Vienna, the Albertina has to cover more than two-thirds of its 18-million-euro annual costs itself and has already started a far-reaching savings program.

With many deals signed two years in advance, there is a time lag between a crisis hitting and this being reflected in sponsorship, according to Colin Tweedy, chief executive of Arts & Business, a London-based network and consultancy.

He says most large corporate sponsors are honoring their contracts but it is when these deals run out, or when institutions seek new sponsors, that they may fall into trouble.

"People think 2009 is secure for a lot of sponsorships but what we are predicting is that 2010 and 2011 will be where the real problems hit." The number of visitors and the amount they spend in shops and cafes is also expected to fall.

"Tourists cannot afford the flight, or might be scared to take a holiday and leave their jobs, so they are not coming on holiday and to the museums," said Julia Flunger, head of marketing and development at Vienna's Belvedere Palace.

The Belvedere, home to the world's largest Gustav Klimt collection, drew some 800,000 visitors in 2008 and Flunger says it will feel the gap left by munificent American visitors as they cut down on trips to Europe.


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