European museums must adapt to survive, says report
Jonathan Knott, 18.05.2020
The Network of European Museum Organisations calls for ongoing government support, more digital investment and new measures to weather "future storms"
Museums need to rethink the way they work to adapt to a “new normal” following the coronavirus pandemic, says a report from the Network of European Museum Organisations (Nemo).
After surveying nearly 1,000 museums from 48 countries on the impact of the pandemic, Nemo is calling for ongoing government support for museum operations, an increased focus on digital cultural heritage and new measures to make the sector “fit for crises”.
The organisation says: “There is no fast-track back to normal – rather than making a return to normal our goal, we must learn from this crisis in order to effectively respond, mitigate, adapt and integrate.”
It says its recommendations form part of a more widespread sentiment that “our systems require review and restructuring in order to weather future storms”.
The report builds on research from Nemo in April which found that museums were suffering significant financial losses.
The latest results are from a survey carried out between 24 March and 30 April. This found that 93% of museums were closed, though many in Europe planned to reopen in May and June. Over half of those responding were losing more than €1,000 a week, and about a quarter were losing more than €30,000 a week.
Large museums such as Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk Museum, and the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, are losing between €100,000 and €600,000 a week.
And museums in tourist regions are expecting income losses of 75-80% because of the standstill in tourism and the possible continuation of lockdown restrictions into summer, says the report.
While a majority of museums have not laid off staff, about 25% said they expected to do so in the long term. Three in 10 have put freelance contracts on hold, and about 60% have completely stopped their volunteer programmes.
There has been a significant increase in online work, with 80% of respondents changing staff tasks to increase their digital capability.
The report calls on European, national, regional and local bodies to provide financial support to museums to guarantee staff salaries, ensure core activities continue, and engage audiences with collections.
It urges governments to continue financial support once the immediate crisis has passed to help museums address an expected drop in tourism and new health and security measures.
Nemo also says sector stakeholders should acknowledge the growing importance of digital cultural heritage by investing in digital services and infrastructures. It calls for “harmonised metrics to measure online visits” and “fun, engaging and creative” digital content that can compete with other online offerings.
The report adds that the sector and society should become better prepared for crises, including developing emergency plans. It urges governments to support museums with adequate health and safety measures, and says the sector should consider adopting more permanently the flexible working approaches that have emerged in response to the crisis.