Thirteen percent of museums worldwide could shut forever due to coronavirus

In Brief

Thirteen percent of museums worldwide could shut forever due to coronavirus

Like other museums across the globe, the Palm Springs Art Museum in California, is awfully lonely these days. Pictured here is Old Couple on Bench by Duane Hanson, part of the museum’s permanent collection. (Jay Cross/Flickr)

Monday, May 18 marked International Museum Day, and to celebrate the occasion, UNESCO along with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) came bearing not-so-festive news.

Together, the organizations released the key findings culled from two separate-yet-interrelated studies examining the devastating impacts that the coronavirus crisis has wrought on museums and cultural institutions across the globe.

UNESCO detailed the most sobering findings in a press statement, noting that 90 percent of museums worldwide, roughly 85,000 institutions in total, had closed—or have continued to close—their doors to the public during the pandemic. Thirteen percent of still-shuttered museums will likely never reopen. And while numerous museums have shifted to virtual programming and tours during the course of the crisis, only five percent of museums in Africa and in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were able to maintain public engagement through online offerings.

“Museums play a fundamental role in the resilience of societies. We must help them cope with this crisis and keep them in touch with their audiences,” said UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay. “This pandemic also reminds us that half of humanity does not have access to digital technologies. We must work to promote access to culture for everyone, especially the most vulnerable and isolated.”

Interestingly, the total number of museums worldwide has increased by 60 percent to 95,000 since 2012, which, as UNESCO pointed out, “demonstrates the important place that the sector has taken in national cultural policies over the past decade.” Only 1.5 percent of museums worldwide, however, are located in Africa or in SIDS.

UNESCO and ICOM will publish the full results of the studies in the near future while “continuing their collaboration to support museums worldwide, with the help of Member States and networks of museum professionals.”