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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Delta Variant Cuts Attendance at Reagan Library

Since reopening in late May, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum has seen a surge of visitors followed by a decline as the Delta variant of the coronavirus impacted operations.  

Melissa Giller, chief marketing officer for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, which runs the Simi Valley facility, said that before the pandemic the library honoring the 40th president was the most visited of the 13 presidential libraries administered by the federal government.

Now, she and the staff “are doing everything we can to get ourselves back in that position.” 

The Reagan Foundation, which ranks No. 3 on the Business Journal’s Foundations list ranked by 2020 total assets, is the nonprofit business arm for the museum and library, raising the money for the exhibits and programs it puts on and the scholarships it gives out. It had $376 million in assets last year. 

The library and museum are operated and funded by the National Archives and Records Administration. 

After reopening, the museum’s attendance numbers were doing pretty decent, especially once the exhibit on the history of the FBI opened in early July, Giller said. The figures were about 50 to 60 percent of a normal summer and climbing every week.

Then came the state’s mask mandate and the surge in cases from the Delta variant, occasioning a drop in the number of visitors, she added. 

“They are nothing horrible but are definitely declining versus increasing as they were previous,” Giller continued. “We are hoping that as numbers in (Ventura County) get under control we’ll be able to turn that decline back around to a more positive swing,” 

Financially, the foundation has been doing well. 

With the museum closed for 14 months starting in March 2020, it lost between $100,000 and $150,000 a week from the lack of revenue it gets from the museum, including admissions and audio tour revenue, museum store and food and drink sales, Giller said. 

But thanks to the generosity of donors the foundation has been able to maintain “a very healthy situation,” Giller added. The foundation did not apply for Payroll Protection Program funds from the federal government.

As for other foundations on the list, many had flat assets between 2019 and last year, based on the most recent data available. The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, No. 1 on the list, had an increase to $7.5 billion as did the Ventura County Community Foundation, No. 6 on the list, to $165 million. Viewpoint Educational Foundation, No. 8, Don and Lorraine Freeberg Foundation, No. 13 and Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Scientific Research, No. 16, all had decreases to their assets. 

New revenue streams

New projects that the foundation has launched and gotten money for include the Time for Choosing speaker series, and the Nancy Reagan Youth Initiative. 

“It is through the programming we are doing and the donor support of those programs that our financial status is still very robust,” Giller explained.

Still, there were layoffs when the part-time museum staff had to be let go in July of last year. Before that, the foundation had been keeping all of its employees on the payroll and finding other work for them to do.

That included calling every member of the museum to ask how they were doing, whether there was anything they needed and to thank them for their membership, Giller said. 

“It’s the personal touch that I think President Reagan would have wanted us to do,” Giller added. 

But there is a silver lining to the employees who were let go. When the museum reopened all the staff were contacted and offered their jobs back. About 85 percent of them returned. 

“The few that hadn’t had found maybe a full-time job elsewhere during the closure,” Giller said. “Almost every employee came back so we were thrilled about that.”

To boost attendance, the museum is pushing hard on “The FBI: From Al Capone to Al Queda” special exhibit “which covers the history of the storied agency from inception to its modern-day efforts to fight domestic terrorism in the United States,” according to the museum website.

It is also letting the community know about the safety protocols in place – social distancing, removing half the seats from the theater and putting hand sanitizer stations in all the galleries – to keep everyone healthy. 

“We have a lot of things that you can visit and view outside, so we’re trying to push that,” Giller said. 

The museum is also keeping its program schedule full for both in-person and virtual events. 

Last week the library held a 20th anniversary commemoration of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Other events include a visit from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and an appearance by an FBI agent to discuss the agency, Giller said, adding, “We sold out on that like weeks ago.”

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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