Let England’s museums reopen earlier, say sector bodies - Museums Association

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Let England’s museums reopen earlier, say sector bodies

‘No logic’ for delay as shops and public buildings get the green light to reopen in April
Profile image for Geraldine Kendall Adams
Geraldine Kendall Adams
Scarborough Art Gallery prepares to welcome the public back after the first lockdown last summer
Scarborough Art Gallery prepares to welcome the public back after the first lockdown last summer

Questions are being asked over why museums in England are not being allowed to reopen on the same date as other public buildings in the UK Government’s plan to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Under the roadmap, which was unveiled by prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday, museums will be allowed to reopen no earlier than 17 May, along with other indoor venues such as cinemas and soft play areas. This is Step 3 of the government’s four-phase reopening plan for England.

But the continued classification of museums as “indoor entertainment venues” – first put in place when the government launched its tier system last year – has caused consternation among sector bodies. Similar public buildings such as libraries and community centres, as well as non-essential shops, have conditionally been given the go-ahead to reopen five weeks earlier, on 12 April.

Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association, said: “There’s no logic for museum reopening to be delayed until 17 May. Museums and their audiences are losing out because the government has classified museums as ‘indoor entertainment venues’ alongside cinemas and theatres. Yet in terms of implementing social distancing, they have far more in common with libraries, public buildings and community centres, which will all open on 12 April.

“Museums demonstrated last year that they are more than capable of opening in a Covid-secure way, with all the appropriate hygiene and safety measures in place. These additional five weeks matter. The ability to open earlier – even at reduced capacity – will be the difference between jobs being kept or lost, particularly as 17 May comes after the end of the furlough scheme.

“The Museums Association raised these issues with government as far back as December and we are now strongly urging it to reconsider so that our museums can open safely and welcome their communities back at the earliest possible opportunity.”


The plans were also criticised by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, which tweeted: “There is no public health or epidemiological justification for indoor attractions – which [Public Health England] state have no proven evidence of being sites of Covid transmission – not opening at the same time as non-essential retail. If you can open H&M you can open the V&A.”

The majority of museums in England have been closed since at least 16 December. The shutdown will have lasted 142 days if they reopen as scheduled on 17 May.  

Plans for reopening vary in each of the four nations. In Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced today that the country’s levels system of restrictions could be reintroduced on 26 April, subject to infection rates.

The next review of Wales’s lockdown is due on 12 March, while Northern Ireland will review its current regulations on 18 March.

Comments (6)

  1. Mike Howe says:

    The UK population needs to be more cautious about misleading statistics in the news. Yes – there has been a large spike in deaths from the virus between November and February – but every year there is a spike in deaths from viruses between November and February. A more significant figure is the excess mortality – see https://github.com/dkobak/excess-mortality . Yes, there has been a slight rise in excess mortality, but nothing like the graphs used to frighten the population with.

  2. Jonathan Platt says:

    I completely agree with Geraldine. By their very nature Libraries are far more likely to be vectors for transmission that museums, art galleries for historic sites. The government simply doesn’t understand the heritage sector.

  3. John Kindness says:

    The problem word here seems to be ‘entertainment’; if ‘education’ was substituted we might be in a different category.
    When I think of how much effort museums now put into education it is demeaning of government to classify them solely as ‘entertainment venues’.

  4. Nat Edwards says:

    This goes much deeper – and is far worse – than just lazy classification by the government. It shows a very distorted view of museums (and their publics) as potential problems rather than as potential solutions. So, in the view of government, museums are attractions that will pull a whole bunch of grubby visitors into towns and cities and create transmissions whereas the reality is museums across the country have been doing their bit throughout the pandemic and could do a lot more if they were allowed to open. That ranges from outreach and digital to support education and militate against social isolation and loneliness through to actively supporting vaccination programmes and clinical trials and directly engaging communities where vaccine-hesitancy is widespread. Most importantly, museums are one of the places where ordinary people can access information and evidence about the wider scientific and social context of public health and infectious disease and make their own minds up about what to do about it. Well done to MA for taking a lad on this – and shame on the other bodies that have meekly stared at their collective shoes and retreated to their zoom book clubs while their communities have risked life and limb to keep them fed and healthy. Time to give something back.

  5. Nat Edwards says:

    ‘taking a lead’ – my apologies (but if you want to take a lad too, that’s entirely up to you

  6. Nadia Berri says:

    Heard anything back from the ‘open letter’ dated 2 December?! This needs to be pushed a lot more, it’s too ridiculous! Museums, Kunsthallen and similar institutions are the most socially distanced places in the world! And yes, they are not ‘entertainment venues’ but rather as somebody mentioned, educational and so so important for the wellbeing of the population! This government sadly does not value culture enough…I am so angry about this! If we can scream louder, let’s! And get museums opened up on April 12th like all commercial galleries!

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