How to Survive a Financial Crisis: Lessons from the Herakleidon Museum
Written by: Nicholas K. Kondoprias, Partner/Co-founder of Pan Art Connections
In 2010, when the financial crisis started in Greece, our personal and professional lives changed dramatically. It was a perfect storm that went on for years, characterized by unemployment that hovered at around 25% (almost 50% for youth), strict austerity measures, an increase in taxes, a reduction in salaries and a drop in consumer confidence.
What did this mean for the museum model? Total chaos! Visitation plummeted, sponsorships disappeared and museum shop sales were almost non-existent; the survival of individuals and their immediate family took priority. Let’s not forget that during the better part of this decade (2010-2020), thousands of refugees were entering Greece escaping global conflict, putting even more financial and social pressure on an already creaking system. As they have done so many times historically, the Greek people proved themselves to be extremely resilient. Through countless sacrifices, hard work and keeping the family unit close, we were able to come out of the crisis with our heads held high.
These “lessons learned” are still very fresh in our memory and when the COVID crisis started to show its ugly face, we, by default, were ready once again to take the necessary steps.
The financial crisis was mainly confined to what were derogatorily referred to as the “PIGS” (the economies of the Southern European countries of Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain). But a substantial portion of the world was already in recovery / growth mode which provided opportunities outside of Greece. Our team at the Herakleidon Museum was able to turn this negative into a positive rather quickly in two ways. Domestically, we were able to grow and provide much-needed revenue for the museum by developing new and dynamic sponsored educational programs focusing on community outreach. Internationally, art institutions around the world were eager to exhibit our collections (M.C. Escher, Toulouse Lautrec and Victor Vasarely) as well as the many other sought after museum collections which we represented then and continue to represent today on an exclusive basis. This provided a new model for the museum, not only for survival but also for growth.
What differentiates the COVID crisis is that the entire globe has been impacted; albeit, as you would expect, with some degree of variation in the level of catastrophe. The concept that all museums and cultural institutions globally would be shuttered and that so many museum professionals would lose their jobs was a scenario that no one could have imagined. All within such a short period of time. There has been a major disturbance not only related to how previously scheduled exhibitions will now fit into an uncertain program, but also how museums may commit to future exhibitions. The mode that we have all activated now is one of survival, through innovative virtual methods and a large learning curve of implementing new museum safety protocols that have changed daily operations dramatically. This recovery will take time and hard work. Many institutions will once again be facing extremely difficult decisions as they reinvent themselves in order to be sustainable in this “new normal”.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind is a sense of solidarity. We are all in this together and together we should work to have our heads held high when this is all over. Like all catastrophes in history, it will pass.
Wishing everyone strength and courage as well as my sincere thanks to the entire Vastari team for allowing me to tell my story.
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