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Studies: 13% of Museums Worldwide May Not Reopen After COVID-19 Crisis

FILE - The area in front of the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum in Paris is deserted as a lockdown is imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in France, March 18, 2020.

On Monday, International Museum Day, two new studies show that museums are another sector of the world economy that has been significantly weakened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the studies conducted by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM), 90% of museums worldwide were forced to close their doors and stop in-person operations during the crisis. Of the more than 85,000 museums that have closed, an estimated 13% are at risk of never reopening because of the heavy financial losses incurred during this time.

The two studies looked to determine the impact of COVID-19 on museums worldwide and explain how institutions have adapted to the pandemic. UNESCO and ICOM say that they will use this information to find ways to support institutions in the wake of the virus.

They also found that only 5% of the museums in Africa and the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were able to offer online content to their visitors. Even museums with digital capabilities will face a substantial decrease in income if they are not able to host visitors in person, debilitating their ability to support their employees and continue operations and outreach.

“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 in a press release. “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.”

In the U.S. alone, museums are estimated to be losing $33 million a day, according to the American Alliance of Museums. The U.S. arts and culture industry had lost more than $4.5 billion nationally by early April, according to a survey by Americans for the Arts.

In mid-May, UNESCO plans to begin discussions among international professionals about how to address problems facing museums as part of its ResiliArt movement, which was initially established to support artists affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The first three will center around the situation in the Ibero-American region and will discuss ways to support museums and their staff, according to a UNESCO press release.

“We are fully aware of and confident in the tenacity of museum professionals to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said ICOM President Suay Aksoy in a statement. “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.”

In response to the UNESCO study, officials say their response plan includes the social protection of museum staff and the digitization and inventorying of collections. Substantial funds and resources will be required to achieve these goals, UNESCO said.