About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

There are 137 museum building projects enumerated in Museum magazine from the American Association of Museums, 2003-2010. Of those 119 have both cost and square footage associated with the project. The total investment is in excess of $5.2 billion, and added more than 6.7 million square feet to help the public access cultural heritage. The cost for each square foot averaged $771.69.

In Minnesota, there were five projects noted, and the average cost per square foot was $278.43. In the Midwest region (Association of Midwest Museums represents Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio), there were 25 museum projects (21% of projects) with at total investment of $1,259,245,000.00 (25% of dollars spent), adding 1,786,550 (27% of the space), at an average cost of $704.85. These eight states represent approximately 20% of the U.S. population.

There were 34 history related museums (29% of museums enumerated). The total investment was $639,112,000 (13% of dollars spent), and added 990,100 square feet (15% of the space), at an average cost of $645.50. This perhaps suggests a smaller size of projects or a smaller capacity to raise funds or attractiveness to donors.

There were 94 projects (79% of all projects) $200 – $2,000 per square foot. The total investment was $3,810,900,000.00 (74% of dollars spent) and added 5,883,566 square feet (88% of the space) at an average cost of $647.72.

The mode, or most frequent number, for any of the sorts is $400.00 per square foot. Depending on which source is consulted, new residential construction can average between $120.00 and $380.00 per square foot. The greater cost for museums reflects the specialized climate, security, exhibits, and furniture (such as shelving) that other kinds of construction do not require.

Anything surprising in this data? It is unclear how AAM selected the museums that appear in its magazine. Those that appear tend to be larger institutions, but not always. In what ways might you be able to use data like this?

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4 Responses to Museums Cost How Much?

  1. I’ve gotten a couple calls about this post as to where the information was found. I had a volunteer simply go through the Museum magazines and enter it into a small database so that I could sort in different ways. The blog was not meant to be exhaustive, but provide a sense of things from a readily available resource.

    The data, of course, has some problems:
    1) I have no way of know if the data is all comparable. Some probably raised endowment dollars, and others probably not – so how much money was spent on the building is not specified in Museum magazine.
    2) I have no idea how the data were reported. Did AAM seek the data, or was it volunteered? At any rate we know that not all museums that opened new buildings or additions 2003-2010 are all reported in Museum magazine (e.g., Sherburne History Museum, Stevens County Historical Society addition, and the Winona County Historical Society addition among many in Minnesota are not reported by AAM).
    3) Beyond dividing things between additions and new construction, there is no way to further qualify the type of project – some seem like they may have included interior renovations when an addition was built, e.g. Further, I cannot tell if land acquisition is a part of new museums or not, although I presume for additions land is not a cost (though it could be as it was in the case of the Winona County Historical Society).

    So, the data is what it is, a sketch of what AAM has reported over the years. I hope the analysis is in some way useful to those considering museum construction or expansion.


  2. Chad Roberts says:

    To have your exhibition opening, building expansion, or personnel change included in Museum magazine you simply need to send the information to the magazine. They can’t run everything due to space considerations but they do try. I do not know if AAM membership is a requirement to be featured.


  3. john l says:

    Are these numbers reffering to Hard and Soft costs, or just Hard Costs? Also are they ground up or renovation? thanks,


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