Some people would say there can never be too many museums. I would rephrase that to say there can never be too much art, but there can be too many museums. The U.S. may be there now.
According to recently released information from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the U.S. has twice the number of museums previously accounted for – 35,144 museums nationwide, up from an estimated 17,500 museums in the 1990s. The count is based primarily on IRS 990 forms filed by nonprofit museums, botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums and historical societies between 2009 and 2013, reports the AP. The 1990s method relied only on state museum association records.
Equally interesting and sometimes troubling is the distribution by state and by discipline. The vast number — 48% — are historic sites, societites and houses. Historical societies claim another 7.5%. General and “unclassified” museums are 33%. Art museums? Only 4.5%. I really doubt that all of those historic organizations are sustainable. You can see the chart here.
Geographic distribution is also skewed. In raw numbers, California has the most museums and Delaware the least, lower than Arkansas, North Dakota, Wyoming and Hawaii, which round out the bottom five. New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio round out the top five. See that chart here.
The map showing museums per 100,000 population shows some of the trouble: The most museum-dense states are Wyoming, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. The South and Southeast — where populations are growing fastest — are the least dense in museums.
Art museums can helps solve the problem with traveling exhibitions, partnerships and collection-sharing. But not those historical societies, for the most part. I think there will be closures in the coming years.