The UK Government is being urged to rethink its decision to prevent museums and galleries in England’s Tier 3 areas from reopening under new Covid restrictions coming into force today.
A growing number of museum and culture professionals have expressed disquiet about the rules, which stop “entertainment venues” such as museums from opening but allow other indoor venues such as gyms, libraries and hairdressers to welcome the public back.
Cultural institutions are keen to offer respite to local people, many of whom have been living under the tightest Covid restrictions for many months. They also fear they will miss out on crucial income-generating opportunities in the run-up to Christmas.
Alex Bird, the museum development officer for the North West, told Museums Journal: “It’s hugely disappointing that museums in Tier 3 areas are unable to open over the next few days, especially considering the huge efforts made to ensure sites were as Covid-safe as possible.”
In an open letter, Manchester Art Gallery director Alistair Hudson said the Tier 3 city’s cultural sector was “devastated” by the news and questioned the logic behind the decision.
Hudson wrote: “This is particularly galling as non-essential retail (and even our own museum stores), gyms and hairdressers have been given the green light to resume their trade. From 2 December we can hit the shops and the treadmill but we cannot find solace and wander freely in a spacious 3,000 sq metre art gallery with carefully timed and limited entry.
“Not only does this defy logic, it seems to penalise specifically cultural organisations that have worked so relentlessly and invested so heavily to make ourselves safe and secure places to visit – and all with generous government support.
“This is not about the visitor economy, it is about the lifeline that art and culture provide to so many people, especially now, to provide an environment of care and consideration and wonder.”
In a further letter to Greater Manchester MPs, David Moutrey, director of the city’s Home cultural centre, wrote: “It was with great disappointment and frustration that we received the news that Greater Manchester would be put into Tier 3 [...]
“The idea that people are safer in a shop or gym than they are in a theatre, gallery or cinema is illogical. There is no data to suggest that cultural venues pose a significant transmission risk, and so closing businesses that have invested so much money and time in making themselves Covid-secure is economically and scientifically unjustifiable. The data shows that households are where the virus is most transmitted – and that you’re safer in a venue than you are at home.”
Moutney said visiting a cultural venue was “one of the few joyous and safe options available to families this Christmas” and urged MPs to rethink the decision.
The Museums Association (MA) is planning to write to ministers this week urging the government to reconsider its Tier 3 restrictions. MA policy manager, Alistair Brown, said: “We are asking the government to review the restrictions because we believe that museums play a critical role in supporting communities and bringing people together in these challenging times. We hope government will revise the requirement for museum closures in Tier 3 as soon as possible.”
The tier system is due to be reviewed on 16 December.
A number of museums and galleries are planning to reopen this week in England’s Tier 2 areas, with Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives welcoming the public back from today. Also opening today is London's Victoria and Albert Museum, which has created a display of children’s rainbows to mark the occasion.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in south London is opening its doors later this week, while the nearby Dulwich Picture Gallery is reopening on 8 December with a new presentation of its collection.