Many of Europe’s most prestigious museums and cultural institutions including the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay in Paris are, once again, fully closed to the public as a second surge of COVID-19 infections roars across continental Europe. Meanwhile, museum administrators in the United States, where many financially battered institutions have slowly and cautiously reopened with reduced capacity, timed entry, and other safety precautions firmly in place, are looking across the Atlantic with trepidation as what’s looking to be a dark winter sets in.
If things have gone from bad, to better, to now progressively worse in European nations, where federal-level responses to the spread of COVID-19 has been more definitive than in a divided U.S., what does it mean for stateside cultural institutions? This, for now, remains unclear, but with infections rising across the U.S., it doesn’t bode well.
The second wave of coronavirus cases spreading rapidly across Europe is being handled with particular vigilance by the French government, where all museums were ordered to close their doors by 6:00 p.m. on October 29 as part of a national lockdown—the second this year—ordered earlier by President Emmanuel Marcon. It’s unclear when they will reopen, although per The Art Newspaper, the Louvre won’t be welcoming back guests at any point before December 1 at the earliest. As reported by BBC News, daily COVID-19 deaths in France are now at the highest levels they’ve been at since April, with a reported 47,637 new cases and 250 new deaths being announced on Thursday. The new lockdown has spurred massive traffic jams in and around Paris as urbanites flee the city for country homes and more remote locales.
In neighboring Belgium, Brussels-area museums and cultural institutions will go dark until November 19 while museums in Italy and Spain will be allowed to remain open for the time being as other partial lockdown measures go into effect. As infection rates spike in Sweden, museums—as well as all other businesses and cultural venues—remain open, although residents of densely populated areas including Stockholm are being advised by officials to avoid visiting them until at least November 18.
The situation in Germany, a shining exemplar of calm and effective pandemic management during the initial wave, is a little more fluid. Proclaiming that “we must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency,” Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a four-week shutdown of bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and other leisure-related venues starting November 2. Museums and similar institutions, however, were not explicitly mentioned in the government’s official directives.
According to The Art Newspaper, officials in some German states such as Baden-Württemberg, the country’s third-most-populous state and home to major cities such as Stuttgart and Manheim, have gone ahead and ordered the closure of museums out of an abundance of caution during the nationwide partial lockdown that will see shops, schools, and most workplaces remain open. (Germany’s commercial art galleries, for now, can also remain open at limited capacity as they are considered retail establishments). Earlier this week, the Guardian reported that COVID-19 infections in Germany are doubling every seven to eight days with an alarming record of 15,000 new infections being reported this past Wednesday.
“If museums are affected by a new closure, then this would be a serious blow which would have to be compensated for,” said German Museums Association in a statement shared by The Art Newspaper. “Museums have prepared intensively for the crisis and implemented successful distancing and hygiene rules, taken on board all preventive measures, and provided the visitor with a safe experience in the Covid-19 era.”
As reported by the New York Times earlier this month, although most major European museums reopened in the late spring following the first COVID-19 outbreak, visitors have yet to return en masse due to travel restrictions and other factors. And these institutions are suffering as a result, their individual fates largely dependent on how they are funded. “As cultural institutions reopen across the United States, with new coronavirus protocols in place, many have been looking to Europe, where many museums have been open since May, for a preview of how the public might respond to the invitation to return. So far, there’s little reason to be optimistic, ”wrote the Times.
In addition to being pummeled by COVID-19, a trio of German museums, all of them located on Berlin’s UNESCO-listed Museum Island, came under attack earlier this month by non-contagious forces when vandals splashed an oily substance on artifacts spread across a total of 68 exhibits displayed at the Neues Museum, Pergamon Museum, and Alte Nationalgalerie. Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi and stone sculptures were particularly hard hit.