News and analysis
May 06, 2015

S.C. Museum’s Fundraising Holds Strong During Closure

The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C., is closed for a $13.4 million renovation that will last nearly two years, but that hasn’t kept the museum from maintaining strong fundraising performance during the shutdown.

Museum officials initially estimated they would raise $235,000 this fiscal year during the shutdown, compared with $361,000 raised the previous fiscal year. Now museum officials say they expect contributions to reach $325,000 by June 30, when the fiscal year ends. The money is coming mostly from ticket sales to a series of events called "Museum Without Walls," held in venues including some donated spaces near the Gibbes campus.

This fiscal year, before the museum reopens in the spring of 2016, Gibbes will hold more than 100 events and programs to showcase artwork from its collections and other offerings. The museum settled on outside events after officials realized that their initial plan of keeping parts of the museum open during the renovation would extend the project’s timeline and cost several million dollars more than closing the facility outright.

Among the events are "Arts and Healing," held in local hospitals, and a distinguished lecture series featuring speakers such as Leonard Lauder, the cosmetics mogul who donated his cubist art collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, the couple who designed the Barnes Foundation museum in Philadelphia.

The events have kept the museum’s visibility high and, as a result, Gibbes has lost few members, who pay anywhere from $45 to $10,000 annually, says Angela Mack, the museum’s executive director. "Our membership base of 2,600 individuals has held steady since we closed," she says. "This is very gratifying."

The strategy for maintaining fundraising during the renovation was informed at least in part by lessons learned from the recent recession, Ms. Mack says. "It became clear that a different approach was necessary in increasing earned income" from ticket sales, admission fees, sponsorships, and other sources, she says.

Ms. Mack, who has worked at Gibbes for more than 30 years, says she benefited from learning about raising money during a shutdown from other museum officials.

For example, another museum under renovation held fundraising events so far from its main location that attendance suffered, so Gibbes worked hard to find venues in the neighborhood. "We are lucky because we have multiple facilities near the museum campus," she says. Having events nearby, she adds, "helps people keep the museum in mind because they have to go past it or near it."

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.