Walters reducing hours to cut costs

Decreased funds forces Walters to cut hours

February 28, 2004|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

In response to cuts in public funding and shifting viewer habits, the Walters Art Museum will no longer be open on Tuesdays, a move that shortens its regular week from six to five days, museum administrators said. It will also change its evening hours.

Beginning next week, the museum will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Its evening hours will be 5:30 to 10 on the second Friday of each month. (The museum will no longer remain open in the evenings on the first Thursday of each month.)

The changes are an effort to compensate for the decrease since 2001 in city and state funding of just under $700,000, said Walters director Gary Vikan.

"It's a strategic, not an operational, change," Vikan said. "Public funds were down by 38 percent on the city side and 27 percent on the state side from 2001. That's what's driving this."

Vikan pointed out that the Walters remains on track for balancing its $13.2 million budget this year and that membership has grown since 2001 by nearly 40 percent to 12,500.

But he acknowledged that cuts in public funding had forced museums across the country to re-think how they allocate limited resources, and that many were experimenting with expanded evening hours as a way of cutting costs.

"We're seeing some very interesting approaches to evening hours as alternative times for visiting the museum," Vikan said. "They can draw 800 additional people a night, sometimes more."

Vikan cited the Dallas Museum of Art in Texas and the Berkeley Art Museum of the University of California at Berkeley in San Francisco as institutions that are exploring expanded evening hours as a way of promoting long-term growth and audience development. "A lot of people are doing evening hours," he said. "When I saw how difficult it was to continue to grow with cuts in public funding and a flat stock market, this was one of the new avenues of growth we had."

The Walters received $700,000 from the city last year, down from about $1.1 million in 2001. Over the same period, state funding to the museum declined to $849,000.

Vikan said that despite the success of such exhibitions as last year's Eternal Egypt, which drew 72,000, the third highest attendance of any show in the museum's history, the museum is a leaner operation than it has been at any time in recent history. "We've run projections to 2007 based on stocks, funds, etc.," Vikan added. "To continue to grow we have to address that $700,000 that's now off the table."

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