Nearly 13% of museums worldwide may never reopen, new studies show

Nearly 13% of museums worldwide may never reopen, new studies show

The studies, released by UNESCO and International Council of Museums, report that more than 85,000 museums have shuttered worldwide, with nearly 13% facing permanent closure

With art institutions cautiously planning next steps, new research released jointly by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) reveals that nearly 13% of museums worldwide may never reopen. The two studies chart the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on institutions, finding that more than 85,000 — equating to 90% of museums — shuttered internationally.

Released May 18 on International Museum Day, the studies cull data from UNESCO’s 193 member states and 11 associate members. In addition to evaluating how museums might be affected in the future, the reports also assessed how the industry has found ways to adapt and what measures can be taken to support organizations going forward.

“Museums play a fundamental role in the resilience of societies,” UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said. “We must help them cope with this crisis and keep them in touch with their audiences.”

As museums shift their focus online in a bid to retain audiences, the studies found that in Africa and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), only 5% of institutions had the capability of offering virtual material.

“This pandemic also reminds us that half of humanity does not have access to digital technologies,” Azoulay said. “We must work to promote access to culture for everyone, especially the most vulnerable and isolated.”

The reports take note of the pandemic’s effect on museum staff, who face mounting job insecurity as the financial fallout of the crisis continues to be revealed. The studies’ authors point to the deprivation of visitors as a source of decreased income.

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

With the arts and culture industry facing great financial and workplace losses, the report notes that the increase in museums worldwide — clocking in at a staggering 60% increase since 2012, bringing the total up to about 95,000 institutions — indicates the “important place that the sector has taken in national cultural policies over the past decade.”

The full findings from the two studies will be published to the public at a soon-to-be-announced date.