Economic sustainability is a concern for museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, and historic sites. Recent data suggests that those institutions are typically seeing positive growth in net income, even with declines in revenue or increases in expenses.

Preston Argus, LLC, has analyzed The Urban Institute’s NCCS Core Files, 2011-2015.  Those files show that most institution categories saw revenue growth that exceeded expense growth and robust net income growth, with a few notable exceptions.

Average Annual Rate of Change for Total Revenue, Total Expenses, and Net Income for Museums, Historic Sites, Zoos, Aquariums, and Other Cultural Institutions, 2011 to 2015

Total Revenue Total Expenses Net Income
All Institutions 9.03% 8.98% 13.47%
Museums 8.78% 5.67% 26.48%
Art Museums 6.01% 7.85% 8.47%
Children’s Museums 4.63% 1.73% 144.78%
Folk Arts Museums -4.55% 0.02% 89.32%
History Museums 4.33% 1.84% 40.19%
Natural History & Natural Science Museums 5.48% 4.01% -264.28%
Science & Technology Museums 8.31% 5.38% 76.46%
Historical Organizations 6.76% 9.10% -0.99%
Historical Societies & Historic Preservation 3.33% 5.33% -4.35%
Botanical Gardens & Arboreta 150.07% 135.35% 380.59%
Zoos & Aquariums 41.44% 39.67% 64.02%


Some categories, like Folk Arts Museums, have overcome revenue declines by controlling expenses and improving internal efficiencies.  Other categories, like Historical Societies and Historic Preservation, will need to adjust their revenue and expense strategies and tactics to improve their sustainability.  The first step is knowing these numbers and comparing them to your individual institution to determine areas for improvement.

To obtain data customized to your geographic location or subdiscipline, like Historic House Museums, contact Samantha Chmelik, principal at Preston Argus, at