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85,000 museums face pandemic challenge

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
31 May 2020   |   3:06 am
Close to 85, 000 museums around the globe will suffer from COVID-19 pandemic, challenge experts have said.On the occasion of International Museum Day, two studies by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums....

Close to 85, 000 museums around the globe will suffer from COVID-19 pandemic, challenge experts have said.On the occasion of International Museum Day, two studies by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) confirm that museums have been especially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 90 per cent of them, or more than 85,000 institutions, having closed their doors for varying lengths of time during the crisis. Furthermore, in Africa and the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), only five per cent of museums were able to offer online content to their audiences. Nearly 13 per cent of museums around the world may never reopen.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, across the world, most cultural institutions had been indefinitely closed (or at least with their services radically curtailed). These include libraries, archives, museums, film and television productions, theatre and orchestra performances, concert tours, zoos, as well as music- and arts-festivals. Also art exhibitions, events and performances were cancelled or postponed.

To this end, many individuals across the sector have become temporarily or permanently out of contracts or employment.The two studies, involving member states and museum professionals, were aimed at assessing the impact of COVID-19 on museums and museum institutions. They also aimed to find out how the sector had adapted to the pandemic and explore ways to support institutions in its aftermath.

The study conducted by ICOM highlights the fact that museums that have been deprived of their visitors will face a decrease in their income. Professions related to museums, their operations and their outreach could also be seriously affected.

“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. “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.”

Although, there are about 50 government owned museum stations across the country, and a large number of private, community and palace museums in various states of the federation, fully operational or in various stages of development, their impacts are hardly felt.

Museums are success stories in Europe and America.
They play a leading role in the success of the tourism of these countries, attracting millions of international and domestic visitors. They showcase the best of their nation’s history and culture to the widest possible audiences and captivate visitors with objects that tell stories of the world.

It is not surprising that museums in Europe and America now make millions of euros and dollars yearly, either through admission charges and or sales of books, pamphlets, paintings, casts and other souvenirs.

However, this boom has not translated into an increase in the visitor base nor is there a diversification of the traditional visitor profile (marked by high income and a high level of education).

Among crucial contents of tourism is museum-visiting culture and many states of the federation have facilities owned by the Federal Government and managed by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NNCM) that can attract visitors.

However, an inventory of Nigerian museums today will reveal a sad and painful treatment of the country’s historical monuments and heritage. Among the priorities indicated by states in their responses to the UNESCO study are capacity building, social protection of museum staff, digitisation and inventorying of collections, development of online content, technical assistance and the equipment of conservation laboratories, all of which require the mobilisation of resources.

It should be noted that the number of museums worldwide has increased by almost 60 per cent since 2012 to some 95,000 institutions, according to the UNESCO study. This increase demonstrates the important place that the sector has taken in national cultural policies over the past decade.

Every May 18, since 1977, the global museum community has always celebrated the International Museum Day. This year, the celebration was marked in the most exceptional circumstances since its establishment.

According to Aksoy, “it seems like a strange time to celebrate, as thousands of museums remain closed and the uncertainty of what will happen in the coming months overwhelms our thoughts. Yet it is precisely now that we need to spread the message of the International Museum Day.”

This global celebration was created with a clear objective: to promote museums as an important means for the development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples.

With the theme Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion, “International Museum Day 2020 aims to become a rallying point for both museums and civil society in general, because this day is not only about museums: it is a celebration of every single person who makes them the places of wonder that they are. It is about wide-eyed schoolchildren, passionate curators, art enthusiasts, and dedicated security people, occasional visitors. It is about our natural heritage and its outstanding biodiversity. It is about our common memory and the diversity that unites us in our differences,” said Aksoy.

“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. “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.”

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