More than one in 10 museum workers worldwide expects their institution to close permanently because of the coronavirus pandemic, research by the International Council of Museums (Icom) has found.
In a survey of about 1300 museum professionals from 103 countries, 13% thought their museum would fold due to the economic effects of the outbreak.
About half of respondents (45%) were in board or senior management roles. Participants, who were surveyed between 7 April and 7 May, also included less senior museum employees and temporary workers. The data was cleaned to avoid responses by more than one person from the same institution.
The expectation of closure was most widespread in regions where museums are “recent and few”. Thirty-nine per cent of museum workers in Arab countries, 27% of those in the Pacific, and 24% in Africa expected their institution to close.
There were also significant proportions in Europe (8%) and North America (10%) predicting their organisation would fold.
The survey also found that 30% of respondents expected their institution to downsize its workforce, and 80% predicted it would reduce its programmes.
And there was widespread expectation of losing funding from both public (40%) and private (42%) sources.
The results also reveal a surge in digital activity. Following government-imposed lockdowns, 31% of museums had either started or increased activity in online live events (31%), quizzes (28%), and exhibitions (27%). Almost half (47%) had increased their social media activity.
But Icom warns of long-term “structural weaknesses” relating to the resources dedicated to digital activities and "the level of maturity of the content produced". Only a quarter of respondents (26%) had staff working full-time on digital activity and 12% spent more than a tenth of their budget on digital.
The survey also included different questions for about 300 freelancers and independent consultants, shedding light on the “alarming” situation they face.
Fifty-six per cent of this group expected to suspend their own salary, 39% thought they would downsize their staff, and 11% predicted they would file for bankruptcy.
Forty-one per cent were uncertain about whether they would have to close their firm.
Overall, the largest proportions of respondents to the survey were from Europe (46%), North America (20%), and Latin America and the Caribbean (15%).
Icom is calling on policy makers to “urgently allocate relief funds” to help the museum sector survive the crisis. “Museums, as key protagonists in local development and as incomparable places for people to meet and learn, will have an important role to play in rebuilding the local economy and repairing the social fabric of affected communities,” it says.
The organisation’s president Suay Aksoy said: “We are fully aware of and confident in the tenacity of museum professionals to meet the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, the museum field cannot survive on its own without the support of the public and private sectors. It is imperative to raise emergency relief funds and to put in place policies to protect professionals and self-employed workers on precarious contracts.”
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