Museums in Europe prepare to reopen after two-month shutdown

Strict guidelines will be in place to safeguard public health, but some fear costly new measures will exacerbate the sector's funding woes
Covid-19 Reopening
Robert Collins
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Museum van Hedendaagse in Antwerp, Belgium
Museum van Hedendaagse in Antwerp, Belgium Bram Goots
Germany and Italy are among several European nations moving forward with plans to reopen their museums and other public spaces, as coronavirus cases and deaths tolls begin to drop.
Concern remains about the premature reopening of public spaces and the possibility that this will help induce a second wave of the virus. However, Bart De Baere, director of Museum van Hedendaagse in Antwerp, Belgium, says that society needs to find its feet again and create a positive balance.
The museum is “ready to serve as a test room for that post-lockdown experience”, he says. It will reopen its doors to the public on 19 May, although this date is considered too early by some experts in the country. There will be a general ease of lockdown in Italy from 18 May, with Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte confirming that this will apply to museums, libraries and other cultural venues. However, he has warned visitors to remain vigilant, saying: “If we do not respect the precautions the curve will go up… If you love Italy keep your distance.” The Uffizi Gallery in Florence was still open for business in March, registering between 1,000 and 2,500 visitors per day. According to museum director Eike Schmidt, this was around the same visitor numbers they’d expect to see on a normal day in low season. A similar pattern is expected when it reopens its doors on 3 May, ahead of the date set by the Conte government. Museums across Germany and Austria share similar timelines for their reopening. In Berlin, the Altes Museum, Hamburger Bahnof, and Bode Museum are scheduled to open again on 4 May, with Berlin mayor Michael Müller emphasising the importance of meeting strict guidelines in order for this to go ahead. The Dresden Arts Collection in Saxony will open on the same day as these Berlin museums. A spokesperson for the museum says: “We have to implement a lot of new measures and are working on a concept.” These measures are likely to be based on guidelines published by the Brandenburg Museum Association. Brandenburg was the first of Germany’s 16 states to reopen museums, beginning in mid-to-late April. The costly safety guidelines include measures such as plexiglass shields for ticket collection, rules requiring masks, and a limitation of visitors to one person per every area encompassing 160 square feet. Set time slots for the most vulnerable visitors – children, the elderly and the infirm – are also under consideration. Other measures will include separate entrances and exits, one-way visitor flows, and the provision of hand sanitisers and face masks upon entry. Information on handwashing and social distancing will be given at the entrance and reception. But David Vuillaume, general manager of the German Museums Association, says that in terms of funding, the cost of implementing safety guidelines will exacerbate lost revenue caused by reduced visitor numbers. He says: “We haven’t put our demands in the foreground… but now we are starting to ask for support too.”
Scheduled dates for the reopening of public spaces and venues are constantly being shifted, so it remains to be seen if these reopenings will go ahead and run smoothly. If they do, there is no doubt that the UK’s museums will be keeping an eye on their European counterparts.

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