Art Market

Thirteen percent of museums worldwide could close due to COVID-19, studies found.

Justin Kamp
May 21, 2020 4:14PM, via UNESCO, ICOM

Museum visitors and a guard wearing face masks. Photo by Karen Axelrad, via Flickr.

A pair of new studies from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) have found that 13 percent of museums worldwide may close permanently because of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNESCO’s study additionally reveals that 90 percent of the roughly 95,000 museums worldwide have closed their doors due to social distancing protocols. While many art institutions in Asia, North America, and Europe have ramped up their digital offerings during the lockdown, in Africa and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), only 5 percent of shuttered museums have been able to provide online programming to their audiences according to the studies.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a statement:

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. 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.

While UNESCO’s study focused on the broad effects the pandemic will have on museums closing worldwide, ICOM’s study focused on the more specific financial situations of institutions. While the full results of both studies have yet to be released, preliminary findings highlight the fact that museums will face drops in income, and that professions related to museum operations and outreach will likely be seriously affected by the crisis.

ICOM President Suay Aksoy said in a statement:

We are fully aware of and confident in the tenacity of museum professionals to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the museum field cannot survive on its own without the support of the public and private sectors. It is imperative to raise emergency relief funds and to put in place policies to protect professionals and self-employed workers on precarious contracts.

The two studies are the latest in a string of dire forecasts for the art world at large. A recent Art Dealers Association of America survey found that galleries across the United States project a 73 percent loss in revenue for the second quarter of 2020, with 74 percent of gallery-related contract workers currently experiencing unemployment. Museums in England, meanwhile, are seeking around £250 million ($308.6 million) in aid from the Arts Council England (ACE) in order to weather the long-term effects of the pandemic.

Further Reading: Ongoing Coverage of COVID-19’s Impact on the Art World

Justin Kamp