The funding for Danish museums does not predominately come from taxes anymore

By Peter Thor Andersen, Director, Øhavsmuseet (Island Sea Museum)

During the last three decades the total income per year for all Danish museums (museums subsidized with state funding according to the Danish Museum Law) has changed from 121 million euro to 361 million euro (in fixed prices 2021 level). This impressing growth is not a result of public spending (funding from state and municipality). Instead, it is a result of a dramatic change in the total income from other sources such as tickets, purchase of goods in the museum shop etc. as well as private foundations. In 1993 71 % of all income came from public sources. The rest came from foundations (6 %) and tickets, goods etc. (23%). In 2019 41 % were public sources, foundations were 11 % and tickets, goods etc. were 48 %.

In the figure below the change as well as the growth in total income is shown in fixed prices (2021). For data sources, please look at the appendix after this article.

Dependency upon other sources than public funding applies to big as well as small museums

In the table below all museums (100 in total) in 2013 are grouped after their total income and the number/percentage in each group, that relies on other sources than public funding. The table indicates that other sources than public funding are crucial for museums in all categories excepts for the smallest ones. 

 Total income 1 million euro or lessTotal income between 1 and 2 million euroTotal income between 2 and 3 million euroTotal income between 3 and 4 million euroTotal income 4 million euro or more
Total number of museums32 Museums23 Museums18 Museums6 Museums21 Museums
Museums with less than 50 % income from public sources3 Museums (9 %)12 Museums (52 %)8 Museums (44 %)4 Museums (67 %)15 Museums (71 %)
Table one: Total income for museums 2013 (million euro) and importance of public funding


Danish Museums have managed to attract an increasing number of Danish as well as foreign guests during the last decades, especially the last ten years. In 2019 the total number of guests was 10,3 million guests (for museums subsidized with state funding according to the Danish Museum Law). As a result, income from guests plays a crucial role for a lot of museums. The tendency to focus on attracting an ever-larger number of guests has led to better quality in a lot of exhibitions as well as higher expectations from the guests to a museum experience. But this change in focus for a lot of museums has also led to a polarization between the museums (approximately 100 museums in 2022). The overall solidarity between museums has decreased and is not very important anymore. The COVID19 experience has somewhat made things worse, since some museums could easily be shut down temporary by the government, while others feared a bankruptcy after a few weeks.

Another structural change in the last decade is that a lot of local museums have merged because of a new structure for Danish municipalities in the year 2007 and new and more strict criteria for paid archeological work for private developers. The new merged museums have been among the group of museums, that have been able to attract funding from private foundations to new exhibitions and new museum buildings.  Once again, this tendency turned some museums into visitor attractions with a large number of guests, while others are more or less the same as a decade ago or even longer.

Finally, it is remarkable that growth in new exhibitions and museum buildings has happened with funding from foundations rather than public funding since the latter source has declined during the last decade. Is it because politicians expect museums to increase number of visitors and build new buildings and exhibitions without the support from public funding or maybe even put museum boards under pressure (most Danish museums are private non-profit organizations)? Or is it a change in focus at the individual museum with directors and boards wanting to make better exhibitions and buildings at the expense of other tasks such as collection management and scientific work. I.e., a change in usage of public funding? Maybe boards and directors even see the income from guests as a source that pays for collection and scientific work?

The data in the article

Figure one is based on official sources from various booklets etc: 1993 are from:”Museerne ved årtusindskiftet” (pp. 126-128), Statens Museumsnævn 1996. 2003 are from appendix 1 in ”Udredning om museernes formidling”, Ministry of Culture 2006. 2010 is from a table in a longer written answer to a member of Parliament from the Ministry of Culture: “notat af 9. oktober 2012 til Folketinget fra Kulturstyrelsen (KUU alm. Del spm. 151-237”. 2014 is from ”Museer i tal 2013-2017”, Slots- og Kulturstyrelsen. 2019 is from ”Klog på museer”, Slots- og Kulturstyrelsen 2020. All numbers are converted into fixed prices (2021) with the help of official index from the Danish Statistical Office (Danmarks Statistiks nettoprisindeks). 2013 is from a table from the Ministry of Culture and ”Museer i Tal 2013-2017”.