If there’s ever a time we need museums it’s now. They provide solace, relaxation, fun, conversation, discussion and inspiration. They take us out of the everyday; give us a break from reality. Yet these experiences will be a thing of the past when museums reopen post-COVID-19, at least in the short-term. While the majority of museums globally are still under lockdown, we can look to Europe and Asia to get a glimpse of what to expect as they prepare to re-open retail businesses and museums later this month (May). A handful of museum leaders within the US have also shared insight giving hints into what we can expect upon reopening.
Unfortunately it doesn’t look pretty, in fact it looks brutal—impersonal, restrictive. Not conducive to a fun, engaging or connected experience. Masks will be a given, there’ll be plexiglass barriers between museum staff and visitors, markings on the floor and signs with directions to enforce social distancing and the flow of visitor traffic. In Asian museums temperature checks will be standard.
Museums Opening Soon…
In Belgium, museums have the green light to open on May 19. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts, a collection of six museums in Brussels shared its guidelines:
Museums in Germany are able to open now so long as government guidelines for social distancing are followed. Most are making plans to reopen shortly, some have already including a group of museums in the state of Brandenburg. The Brandenburg’s Museum Association published its guidelines:
In Beijing, China restrictions are more rigorous. Philip Tinari, director and CEO of the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art shared UCCA’s shared planned guidelines for the museum reopening on May 21 in a podcast on the Art Newspaper. They included mandatory masks, strict social distancing, temperature checks for visitors, and scanning of an app that provides details of a person’s travel history.
In the United States restrictions will look similar to those of European museums. An article published in the Wall Street Journal on May 2 shared insight based on interviews from museum leaders. Highlights:
The (Brutal) Museum Experience
Based on the insights shared here, the museum experience doesn’t look at all welcoming, in fact it looks pretty grim. Here’s how I see it:
As a museum-lover, I’ve missed frequenting museums since the lockdown. I miss the escapism, the feeling of being removed from the real world. I miss the connection. I'll be reluctant to visit museums once they reopen if the experience is anything like the current shopping experience for essentials. I struggle with the face masks, barriers and signs for social distancing—it’s disconcerting. Let’s hope when museums reopen they can overcome the social disconnectedness these barriers create and deliver an experience where people feel welcome, engaged and connected. Time will tell. I hope it will be sooner rather than later.