The state is home to some of the world's most popular museums and cherished collections, but little data is known about who visits them and the depth of their economic impact.
Legislation that would require the state to study and take inventory of its public and private museums for the first time awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul's signature.
"We need to have this more holistic understanding of it," said bill sponsor Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, a Democrat from Hudson. "Museums are part of who we are as New Yorkers ... and they're really critical economic drivers and anchors of our community."
The study would include information about museum size, visitor statistics and analysis of the public and private funding sources available to support them.
New York ranks second of U.S. states for its number of museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and various science, children's and historic house museums, among others. A statewide census of public and private museums has never been conducted.
That's because museums throughout the state don't have a specific "home," or clear funding structure, with its funding split across at least six different state agencies.
Tourism officials within state Economic Development recently asked the Museum Association of New York for statistics to compare the number of visitors pre- and post-pandemic.
"We don't have that," said Erika Sanger, the executive director of the Museum Association of New York. "We don't know how many visitors are going to New York state museums. We don't know if they're coming from down the block or from another state."
The study is estimated to cost $500,000, and would be completed by and sent to the Legislature to best inform future policy.
The bill would direct the state Department of Economic Development to work with the Empire State Development Corporation, the state Education Department, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Department of State and the New York State Council on the Arts to complete the study.
"We really want to be able to codify who we're reaching and how museums are serving your community," Sanger said.
Representatives with Gov. Hochul's office said Monday the governor continues to review the legislation. They would not answer questions about when a decision will be made to sign the bill.
"The governor still needs to sign the bill and then funding will be allocated," Barrett said. "There certainly is a lot of support for it, I think."
The state Council of the Arts funds about 10% of the museums in the state and that funding is largely tied to local organizations that interpret which should receive funding through an artistic lens only — often meaning science museums, technology centers and most history museums, children museums and historical societies are omitted.
State Council on the Arts funding has been cut in recent years in the wake of several financial crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanger said.
More than 30% of state museums were in economic deficit before the pandemic began, Sanger said. About 20% are continuing to see a loss in revenue and visitation, with a 40% average employment turnover rate.
The study and inventory data would help state agencies decide how to best support each museum's unique needs, she added.
"New York's museums hold our history and our stories," Sanger said. "And they are the people who can convey the history and the stories to the next generation of New Yorkers."
Museums contribute about $5.4 billion to New York state's economy, employing about 60,000 people, according to the American Alliance of Museums and Oxford Economics data from 2017.
"This is a really, very much, of a positive step forward for New York state to break down silos and work together to find the best way to serve our museums," Barrett said.
Museums in the state are required to report information to the state Attorney General's Charities Bureau and the State Education Department's Cultural Education Chartering Office.