COVID-19 poses existential threat to some of world’s museums – UNESCO

June 15, 2020 - 9:46 PM
An employee stands next to Tintoretto's painting 'Christ washing the disciples' feet' as the Prado museum reopens to public under strict social distance measures, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Madrid, Spain, June 6, 2020. (Reuters/Juan Medina/File Photo)

PARIS — The coronavirus lockdowns have hit the world’s museums very hard and more than 10 percent may never reopen while others will have to put new projects on hold, the United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO said.

A survey of almost 1,600 museums in 107 countries by the Paris-based International Council of Museums (ICOM), which is affiliated with UNESCO, showed that almost all museums around the world were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The private museum sector fears numerous bankruptcies in the coming months. In African, Asian and Arab countries, more than a quarter of museums fear they may have to close for good, the survey showed.

“Even losing one museum, one cultural center or one theater will affect diversity,” said Ernesto Ottone Ramirez, UNESCO Assistant Director-General.

Many major institutions such as the Prado in Madrid get more than 70% of their income from tickets sold to tourists and the months-long closures caused by the pandemic would weigh on their finances for years to come, he said.

Many developing countries and those emerging from wars will see progress set back many years, Ottone Ramirez said, citing Somalia and other African countries where UNESCO has been helping local authorities to set up museums.

In the Philippines, Indonesia, Montenegro and Iraq, among others, several new projects have ground to a halt.

“It will take time to recover the progress made in the last 20 years,” Ottone Ramirez said. —Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau Writing by Geert De Clercq Editing by Gareth Jones