The 9/11 Tribute Museum was one of many places that had to shut its doors due to the onset of the pandemic. Over the course of the six months that it was closed, millions of dollars of debt accumulated — with no visitors to help steady the rapidly increasing costs of keeping the museum running.
Opening in 2006, the 9/11 Tribute Museum located in lower Manhattan on Greenwich Street in NYC has made a huge impact on citizens’ lives. Both the general public as well as survivors of the attacks in 2001 have made many visits to the museum, considering it is right down the street from the Ground Zero memorial.
When comparing museum admissions from previous years prior to the pandemic, The Guardian explained that there has been an 83% decrease since 2019, from approximately 150,000 visitors to now around a mere 26,000.
The museum began as a nonprofit organization and almost entirely depended on museum admission fees to keep it afloat. Now with the steady decrease of visitors due to the pandemic, the museum is on track to its doors permanently.
A significant portion of the revenue that came in from ticket sales was from international visitors. A combination of travel restrictions as well as a general avoidance of traveling due to the ongoing pandemic has had a major impact on the percentage of visitors. CBS News explains that without the money funneling in through international visitors, the museum has no endowment fund to use as a safety net during a situation such as the pandemic.
The museum itself is run by a small committee, and according to The Guardian, now consists of only 10 staff members and over 300 volunteers. Within these 300 volunteers, many include survivors of 9/11, those with family and friends who were involved in the attacks and others simply needing an outlet to express their own personal experiences that occurred during this time in history. One volunteer explained to The Guardian, “I can come here and I can talk about my son to people that want to hear his story. And then I can put it away, and I can go home.”
Peter Bitwinski, a former accounting manager, was on the 69th floor of the North Tower when the plane crashed into the building. For the past 12 years, he has been volunteering at the Tribute Museum as a way to deal with his trauma as well as to remember those who lost their lives.
“I feel so good, whether I speak to one person, 10 people, 100 people here,” Bitwinski explained to CBS News. “I come away having been healed a little bit more because I believe that the healing is for the rest of my life. Yeah I had psychological counseling, but this place was always so special to me.”
One volunteer who lost her child in the attacks told U.S News that “I can come here and I can talk about my son to people that want to hear his story. And then I can put it away, and I can go home.”
Bitwinski is a part of the large group of volunteers who have similar experiences and work at the Tribute Museum to cope with the events they have experienced.
The Tribute Museum is one of the many smaller museums that have been threatened with the possibility of shutting down due to the ongoing pandemic. Out of over 850 museum directors, a third explained that their museums had a very high possibility of closing down permanently, according to NPR.
The money that comes from visitors purchasing tickets and money being spent at gift shops is heavily relied on by the directors of the museums. Without a steady income, many museums are closing their doors with no chance of reopening.
“Museums exist to protect our cultural heritage and the things that we as a society have decided are important,” said Laura Lott, the director and president of the American Alliance of Museums, to NPR. “Once a museum closes, it’s closed forever, generally.”