Museum Forecast 2020

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

January 15, 2020

What will 2020 hold for the museum field? Here’s my 2020 forecast for three major areas that will continue to impact museums, with insights on what we can expect in the coming year.

In a recent post, I reviewed issues that presented themselves (some not for the first time) in 2019: preventable fires and controversial donations, the American Alliance of Museum’s TrendsWatch 2019 report, #MeToo, salary transparency, and ICOM’s attempted change to the definition of museum. Social injustice and harm to segments of our population is currently receiving broad attention, prompting the evaluation of how these systemic issues are also prevalent in museum spaces. With 2020 being a major election year for the US, we can only expect this questioning of values and systems to continue.

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility & Inclusion (DEAI)

History & Current State:

  • These words have existed and have been used contextually since the 2000s.
  • The DEAI concept as we know it crystalized closer to 2015 with DEAI or DEI statements becoming commonplace by 2018.
  • As of 2019 it’s rare to see a nonprofit institution without one.

Forecast for 2020:

  • All institutions will be required to have a DEAI or DEI statement—not legally required perhaps, but required to apply for funding, required by society to meet moral expectations, etc.
  • This requirement will go beyond a DEAI statement on a website. DEAI requirements will grow into specific programs and projects a museum offers, and serve as a lens to evaluate current and future museum work.

Grant Funding

History & Current State:

  • In 2006 the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) conducted a study that revealed museums on average rely on 44.1% of outside funding to help meet their operating gap.
  • In the last ten years reliance on outside sources of support has increased while budget numbers decreased. Funding agencies are reporting higher-than-ever levels of applicants requesting money even though the majority of funding agencies haven’t been able to significantly grow their funding pool in the last decade.
  • 5-Years ago award percentage averages for national grants were near 30%. Today they’re closer to 12-15%, with some national grants as low as 8%.
  • The tax law changes in 2018 have done much to discourage donations for those who fall within the increased standard deduction threshold. So far, the numbers for 2018 show donations increased 1.6% largely because of those who needed to increase their donation in order to exceed the standard deduction. But the number of overall donors has gone down as the standard deduction has decreased the incentive to give.
  • Since 2017 our largest federal granting agencies (such as IMLS) have added grant opportunities or intend to add grant opportunities.
  • Grant workshops and seminars are a more common offering through both national and regional organizations.

Forecast for 2020:

  • While grant opportunities will remain competitive, museum staff have the opportunity to attend grant education courses. Museum staff will need to remain strategic in choosing the best grant opportunities and remain up to date on the grant funding landscape in order to have the best competitive advantage.
  • Grant funding opportunities will continue to see modest budget increases despite federal funding repeatedly being threatened.
  • The number of granting agencies requiring DEAI activities as part of the museum’s normal operations and as part of the grant project will continue to increase.

Ethical Labor Practices

Current State:

  • Earlier this year several articles were published regarding the decline of the history major. This is indictive of a nation-wide devaluation of history (and related degrees) which trickles down into institutions and professions related to the study of history.
  • The existence of obscured salary ranges, unpaid labor, temporary positions for permanent work, lack of mobility into mid and high-level jobs, and flat salaries within the museum field cripple the profession. With little to no help from professional organizations, some museum professionals have taken it upon themselves to create a comprehensive salary spreadsheet to help promote salary transparency and reveal larger issues related to unethical labor practices.
  • In the last few years, and especially the last few months, there’s been a grassroots push to demand job posts are transparent with salary ranges. Additionally, there’s a call to refuse the promotion or support of unpaid internships. Salary transparency and paid internship opportunities must exist in order to support true diversity within the profession (a DEAI aspect).

Forecast for 2020:

  • Stating a job salary range will become a mandatory element for job publishing on regional professional sites, if not national. There will be a diminishment in unpaid internships and temporary labor contracts, but they will continue until systemic issues are addressed (e.g. lack of resources and/or ability to prioritize).
  • Grassroots advocacy will continue to lead the way as large national organizations are slow to change. Museum professionals will continue to put in the additional (uncompensated) labor to advocate for change and hold both employers and professional organizations accountable.
  • A few museums and/or professional organizations will emerge as thought-leaders and secure funding from IMLS (or related agency) to research and experiment with implementing operational changes in order to promote the financial health of museums and museum professionals.


Trends are typically predicated on current events, and trends that do emerge can surprise us. My forecast for 2020 is not comprehensive and there will be issues that arise that none of us can foresee. However, by reflecting on past trends and current issues we can make informed guesses as to what museums and museum professionals will need to prepare for. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management, grant writing and the future of museums for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and download your free copy of Rachael’s new book for Lucidea Press, How to Select, Buy, and Use a Museum CMS.

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