NEW YORK CITY Tourism drops since Sept. 11
Cultural institutions have experienced a decline in tourism and school field trips while having to increase security spending.
By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY
NEW YORK -- The names are internationally known, New York totems of world culture: the Metropolitan Museum, Lincoln Center and the Natural History Museum.
Each was wounded, in its own way, by the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Tourism has fallen, schoolchildren have stopped visiting, and major museums and cultural outlets report that attendance has declined by as much as 60 percent. At the same time, spending on security has grown.
The combination is not sustainable, and the well-tailored chieftains of New York's cultural institutions gathered recently among menacing triceratops to plead for more visitors, more attention and more money.
"We've just got to get people less nervous," said Beverly Sills, chairman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. "We've got to get the mind-set, 'Let's go have a wonderful time.' "
Although hotel occupancy rates over Thanksgiving weekend crept up to levels comparable with last year's, the number of visitors to cultural institutions is down 20 percent, said Christyne Lategano-Nicholas, president of the tourist board NYC & amp; Company. Last year, about 15.7 million people visited New York for museums and cultural events, spending an estimated $9.2 billion.
Help from governor: New York Gov. George Patakihas responded to the decline with a $1 million grant for "I Love NY Culture" advertisements in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut newspapers. The advertising campaign "means literally the world to us," said Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History.
Since Sept. 11, the Natural History Museum has lost about 30 percent of its usual visitors. That translates into a $2 million loss in revenue, out of a $130 million annual operating budget.
Charitable giving has remained steady, and the museum has not laid off workers, but it has closed three of its seven entrances to save on security costs.
Since the attacks, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has lost $3.5 million in revenue from a budget of $149 million. At the same time, it has spent an additional $650,000 on security guards and $2 million to build a guard house, barriers and surveillance systems, according to its president, David McKinney.
That has required postponing plans to renovate seminar rooms and add programs for student visitors.
"Come and shop" at the museum store, McKinney pleaded. "We're cutting everything in the museum that we can without laying off people."
Smaller museums: For New York's smaller museums, the impact has been mixed. But expected city budget cuts of 10 percent to 15 percent could fall most heavily on small museums, which are particularly dependent on public funding.
Alan Friedman, director of the New York Hall of Science, said its attendance dropped by 50 percent after the Sept. 11 attacks, largely because schools canceled field trips.
But recently, he said, there were a dozen school buses in the driveway again, and the museum had raised $100,000 more than its goal for its annual black-tie fund-raiser.
"We are steaming back," Friedman said.
One of the few institutions that has kept a steady level of visitors is the Staten Island Children's Museum. People coming to the island for memorial services for World Trade Center victims have been stopping by, said Dina Rosenthal, the museum's executive director. Local residents, perhaps hesitant to travel into Manhattan, are also coming.
"We're actually seeing more tourism than before," Rosenthal said.
Fewer field trips: Even the Children's Museum, however, has seen a 40 percent decline in school trips, which account for 10 percent of its budget. Rosenthal said that she expects school visits to rise in the spring but that until then, money will be tight.
The museum already has cut back on outside artists, such as dancers and storytellers. Instead, staff members are pitching in: The program coordinator teaches origami; an exhibit builder performs magic tricks; the maintenance head plays guitar.
"We used to go out and buy paint and buy glue," Rosenthal said. Now the museum tells kids: "Bring your milk cartons to the museum, and we'll show you how to turn them into art."