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The picture is bleak for the future of museums

The picture is bleak for the future of museums

BRUSSELS – One in eight museums worldwide could face permanent closure due to the pandemic, studies by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums warn.

“It is alarming data that we are giving,” said Ernesto Ottone, assistant director general for culture at UNESCO.

He said the problem cuts across the board, affecting museums big and small, new and established, featuring art or science, in rich countries and poor.

Not only have museums been closed for months, leaving them with no revenue, but once they do open, social distancing restrictions and other pandemic precautions likely will greatly reduce ticket sales.

“They don’t know how they’re going to get their revenues,” he said.

The Network of European Museum Organizations said large institutions in tourist hot spots like Paris, Amsterdam and Vienna have suffered income losses of up to 80%, amounting to hundr of thousands of dollars a week.

Places like the Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Kunsthistorisches in Vienna are losing the equivalent of $2.75 million a month.

Ottone said matters were particularly tough in Latin America, where 99% of the museums are closed.

“So you have a continent that doesn’t have anything open,” Ottone said.

“It’s the first time in our history, and it will be very difficult to come out from this crisis for those institutions.”

Museums in some countries are starting to open, but they’re not generating anything close to the revenue they used to.

In Berlin, four museums and one special exhibit that reopened had 10,000 visitors the first week -— about 43% of last year’s level for the same week. Visitors need to buy tickets for a particular time slot, which limits the attendance.

There’s still no reopening date set for Italy’s biggest cultural draws, including the Uffizi in Florence and the Vatican Museums or the Colosseum in Rome. The same goes for France.

Big hitters, such as the Louvre — the world’s most-visited museum — and the Pompidou Center remain shuttered even after the government eased restrictions May 11.

Overall, the situation remains dire amid uncertainty over when tourism, a lifeline for most museums, will resume.

“It’s [going to] be a very, very difficult year,” said Pierre Coulon, operation director for public affairs of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences Museum. “And we don’t know exactly how long it will last and when we will recuperate a normal income.