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Canada Canadians visiting museums, galleries more than ever, survey shows

Canadians are visiting museums, art galleries and historic sites more than ever, new government data show.

Fundraising also doubled over two years, but that increase was almost entirely because of donations made to the National Gallery of Canada.

A government survey of heritage institutions says there were 75 million total physical visits in 2015. That set a new record, and meant an increase of 34 per cent compared to two years earlier.

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Visits to institutions’ online offerings were also up significantly, to 200 million hits.

John McAvity, CEO of the Canadian Museums Association, said he was “blown away” by the new numbers.

“Attendance is surging at museums in Canada every time they do this survey,” Mr. McAvity said.

The wave of physical visitors led to a sharp rise in revenue. Collectively, the institutions reported $918-million in earned revenue – up 19 per cent from two years before – which mostly came from admission fees and sales of gifts and food. They reported a total of $1.6-billion from unearned sources, which is mostly government funding.

The survey showed fundraising in the sector had nearly doubled, rising to $136-million in 2015 from $70.5-million in 2013.

But most of that extra support was donated to one place: the National Gallery of Canada.

The National Gallery says it received $50.4-million in gifted or bequeathed art in its 2015-16 fiscal year, a large spike from the few million dollars it received the previous year.

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The gallery’s annual report says the donations were divided between Canadian, international and photographic art. The largest gift was a collection of James Wilson Morrice paintings worth $20-million, donated by Toronto collector Ash Prakash. Mr. Morrice’s landscapes – and Mr. Prakash’s love of them – were turned into the exhibit James Wilson Morrice. The A. K. Prakash Collection in Trust to the Nation, which is currently touring the country.

Bruce Bailey, a Toronto collector who split a $600,000 collection of John Massey photographs between the National Gallery and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts that year, said high-level donors can get a tax break of about one-third of the market value of the art, depending on the situation.

He said the strong attendance figures show there is demand among Canadians for what galleries and museums are providing, and that should be matched with government funding. He said other institutions around the country should get federal money to acquire art, like the National Gallery does.

“The Canadian people have voted with their feet in attendance and should be heard,” Mr. Bailey said.

The Government of Canada Survey of Heritage Institutions also included demographic data about employees for the first time.

It showed that 66 per cent of workers in the field were women, but just 4 per cent self-identified as visible minorities.

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In total, the nonprofits employed 12,520 full-time and 18,919 part-time employees.

The survey showed the work of the institutions would not be possible without volunteers. More than 100,000 people gave their time, with a combined 6.6 million hours worked.

Mr. McAvity said the volunteers counted by the survey were doing jobs that would otherwise be paid.

“It’s a statement about how hard-pressed museums are, how little money they have for employment. We depend on volunteers,” Mr. McAvity said.

The House of Commons’ heritage committee is currently studying the state of Canada’s museums and is expected to release a report in the coming months.

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