YPN: How Museums Are Surprising Economic Engines

Cover photo – LancasterHistory museum

Story written by Robin Sarratt, Vice President of LancasterHistory

Lancaster is a bustling town with lots to offer; it’s a welcoming community to someone coming from elsewhere; it’s imbued with a strong entrepreneurial spirit; and it’s steeped in American history. In fact, you see Lancastrian history almost everywhere you look. Lancaster’s history draws tourists, with more than 70% of visitors to Lancaster County identifying history as one of the top reasons to visit.

History is a major economic force in Lancaster, and Museums are economic engines across the country. More people visited an art museum, science center, historic house or site, zoo, or aquarium in 2018 than attended a professional sporting event! The American Alliance of Museums gathers information on the economic impact of museums, and recently came out with these statistics.

  • Museums support more than 726,000 American jobs.[1]
  • Museums contribute $50 billion to the U.S. economy each year.[2]
  • Seventy-six percent of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities such as visiting museums. These travelers spend 60 percent more on average than other leisure travelers. [3]
  • The economic activity of museums generates more than $12 billion in tax revenue, one-third of it going to state and local governments. [4]
  • For every direct job at a museum, an additional job is supported elsewhere in the economy.[5]
  • Museums and other nonprofit cultural organizations return more than $5 in tax revenues for every $1 they receive in funding from all levels of government.[6]

Beyond economic impact, Museums contribute substantially to the quality of life in our communities. They provide space for learning, yes, but also for contemplation, peace, and community-building. Museums provide stories of hope, opportunity, and perseverance. They illuminate the experiences of people who have survived hardship and learned from it.

In Lancaster alone, the stories from our past provide remarkable examples of courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds: take the freedom seekers of the Underground Railroad, the first interracial, religiously inspired, mass movement of civil disobedience in America. On the local level, the Underground Railroad had an outsized presence in Lancaster County involving scores of individuals, events, and activities working in consort with brave people who risked everything for their liberty. These are stories well worth chronicling and passing on to future generations.

Museums are where most Americans find an in-depth look at American history, and Lancaster has no shortage of first-rate museums doing the creative work of history. LancasterHistory’s Campus of History currently features exhibitions exploring Lincoln and the Constitution, Lancaster in the 60s ( the 1660s, 1760s, 1860s and 1960s, that is) and tours of Wheatland that dive into the precarious presidency of James Buchanan.

Work is underway to create the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Historic Site and Museum exploring the Underground Railroad, and the Constitutional Amendments (13th , 14th , and 15th) that gave enslaved people freedom, equal protection under the law, and the right to vote. Rock Ford, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, Pennsylvania Railroad Museum, Ephrata Cloister Museum, the Hans Herr House, and so many others are also here to engage us in the important work of understanding Lancaster’s past.

If spending time in a museum isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of ways to engage in the history of Lancaster County on the go, or when you’re out and about the community. You can embark on a self-guided tour of more than a dozen places here in our community with information-packed markers to lay out the big picture. You can take any number of in-depth walking tour for a deeper dive into that part of Lancaster’s history. Or closer to home you can simply ask questions—of your relatives, your neighbors, or your co-workers. You never know what you might learn. To learn more about the history of Lancaster County, visit www.lancasterhistory.org or to find additional tours and resources, check out options at Discover Lancaster: https://www.discoverlancaster.com/things-to-do/museums-history/