The UK’s national museums are currently facing their biggest challenge since the end of World War II. They are suffering financial worries due to a loss of income, and now looking to the post-lockdown future, and the challenges that reopening will bring.
According to the Evening Standard, Maria Bashaw, director of the Tate, has planned to reopen both the Tate Modern and Tate Britain in early August, subject to coronavirus infection levels. She said that the museum group had been working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), as well as with other museums.
“We are working very closely with DCMS. We are also working within government guidelines, so museums can potentially reopen at Stage Three, that is at some point after 4 July,” explained Bashaw.
“Each museum is in a different situation. We are coordinating our schedules and all feel it would be unwise for everyone to open on the same day, partly because we are reliant on a public transport system which won’t be working at full capacity. The reopenings will probably be from mid-July until the end of August.”
She is predicting that visitor numbers to the museums will be around 30 per cent of normal levels, and planning visitor safety and social distancing measures. But the enthusiasm that many institutes have seen for their social media and digital content has Bashaw feeling that demand may be higher.
There are also staffing considerations to be made, but the museums are not planning on hiring more front-of-house staff. “Filling the galleries with more staff is not very helpful when people need to keep a distance from each other. Our gallery staff will probably do different things, but adding extra people would not help.”
With a significant proportion of Tate’s income being self-generated, there are concerns over what could be a rather large hole in their budget, which will be addressed by extending exhibitions over a longer time scale, which allows more people to have the opportunity to visit and see them, but also spreads the cost of the exhibitions over several years.
“Along with the whole of the cultural sector, we will be facing a really significant financial challenge. We won’t know the scale of that until we reopen, and the situation is changing on a weekly basis,” said Bashaw, who hopes that the government will appreciate the importance and impact that arts and culture have had on the nation during the crisis.
“During lockdown, there has been a renewed focus on the importance of people’s creativity. Arts and culture is vital for our social wellbeing. DCMS will be making that argument and I hope that the government will recognise it too.
“We have an extraordinary and highly successful museum sector and wider cultural sector. It is something that must be protected.”
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