Coronavirus: what impact is the pandemic having on museums worldwide?

Unprecedented shutdown of global museums and heritage sites takes effect
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Simon Stephens
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Museums worldwide are struggling to adapt to the challenges created by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but some countries have been hit harder than others.

Museums in Croatia are having a particularly difficult time following an earthquake that struck the area surrounding the capital Zagreb on 22 March. This was the strongest in the region for 140 years, and caused widespread damage, including to museums. The disaster comes at a time when the country came was already having to cope with the Covid-19 emergency.

Most of the museums in the centre of Zagreb suffered damage during the earthquake, with some buildings no longer safe. The International Council of Museums (Icom) reports that the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum are the institutions most affected by the earthquake, with serious damage to artworks and buildings.
The full extent of the damage is still being assessed and Icom is working with museum professionals in Croatia to support them in planning reconstruction and repair work.

The Network of European Museum Organisations (Nemo) says that the majority of museums are closed across the continent. It is urging “governments at all levels in Europe to adopt appropriate emergency measures to support museums to make it through this challenging time, as well as to support the sustainability of the cultural sector at large”.

Italy, which has been particularly badly affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, shut all its museums on 8 March. The Ministry of Culture in Spain announced that all its museums were closing in 13 March.

In the US, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has responded to the crisis by asking congress to provide emergency assistance, including for nonprofit museums, of at least $4bn in its Covid-19 economic relief legislation.

In statement issued on 19 March, the AAM said: “Nationwide, our museums are losing at least $33m a day due to closures as a result of Covid-19 and will be in desperate need of significant federal support to maintain jobs, secure our cultural heritage, help to rebuild our nation’s tourism industry – and simply to survive the months to come.”

New York has been badly hit by the coronavirus crisis and many of its cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim, closed on 13 March.

The Met, one of the world's largest art museums with 7 million visitors annually, says it expects a shortfall of at least $100m. It is among the US cultural organisations calling for government support under the #CongressSaveCulture campaign.

Daniel Weiss, the president and CEO of the Met Museum, said: “Despite the abundance and excellence of the programmes and resources that our country's arts groups deliver, and the legions of audiences they serve, many already operate on the edge, with very limited reserves. All are facing unprecedented financial damage as a result of the immediate and long-term effects of the coronavirus on the economy. The need for government relief for arts institutions and their employees cannot be underestimated.”

In Hong Kong, artnet news reports that museums that reopened following a fall in coronavirus cases are shutting again as a second outbreak takes hold. The Hong Kong Museum of Art, which reopened on 11 March, closed its doors again and the West Kowloon Cultural District has closed the M+ Pavilion exhibition and event space until 31 March.

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