The year 2020 has been a time of crisis and innovation for all business areas, especially for the art world. As the virus spread across the globe, cultural institutions were forced to close. The Metropolitan Museum of Art closed on March 13th, ten days before New York went into lockdown. By the time Britain imposed social-distancing measures on March 23rd, the four Tate galleries and the National Gallery had shut. The large galleries in cities with usually reliable international tourism found the travel bans incredibly harmful to business. However, many smaller museums have seen a new wave of interest from locals.
In response to their premises closing, museums worldwide have upped their digital offerings with online exhibits, curator video chats, and many virtual kids’ activities. Many are also re-thinking their reach and collections in a time of accelerated technological change and reflecting on how racial and social injustice are reflected in their art.
For instance, last month, Tate celebrated LGBTIQA+ month with QueerTate festival and premiered the special live online performance Resilient Responses, filmed in Tate Modern’s Tanks during lockdown. Recently Aliza Nisenbaum’s compelling new film Painting the NHS explores the story behind her Tate Liverpool exhibition and introduces the NHS key workers who are the subjects of her work. Meanwhile, Tate St Ives has worked closely with Vocal Eyes to produce two audio and video descriptions for the blind and partially sighted, including Barbara’s Hepworth’s Two Forms Divided Circle and Marlow Moss’s White and Yellow. No museum has escaped the uncertainty brought about by national lockdowns and decline in revenue in revenue. In May 2020, the International Council of Museums surveyed museums in 106 countries about the pandemic’s early effects, finding that more than 80% of them expected to reduce programming, and 10% might permanently close. When Tate closed its galleries at the end of March 2020, they had just experienced one of the most successful years, welcoming record visitor figures to many of our galleries. Tate galleries have been closed for almost six months in total and have seen only 20% of previous visitor numbers when open. However, they and so many other cultural institutions are determined to do everything in their power to secure their long-term future ‘for our colleagues, our visitors, for artists and future generations.’