Museum revolution: 100 French directors call for 'essential' reopening

Petition urges culture minister to lift coronavirus restrictions on museums and galleries so they can "take care of visitors now"

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The Palais de Tokyo in Paris, pictured here during the 2018-19 exhibition Carte Blanche to Tomás Saraceno, launched a Change.org petition to lift Covid-19 restrictions on French museums and galleries Photo: Alina Grubnyak

The Palais de Tokyo in Paris, pictured here during the 2018-19 exhibition Carte Blanche to Tomás Saraceno, launched a Change.org petition to lift Covid-19 restrictions on French museums and galleries Photo: Alina Grubnyak

Around 100 leading figures in the French art scene have published an open letter calling on the culture minister Roselyne Bachelot to lift Covid-19 restrictions on the country’s galleries and museums, allowing them to reopen “as widely and as soon as possible”. The Change.org petition, launched by the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, has garnered more than 2,000 signatures in two days.

Signatories include Emma Lavigne, the president of the Palais de Tokyo; Maja Hoffmann, the founder of the Luma Foundation; Quentin Bajac, the director of the Jeu de Paume; Nicolas Bourriaud, managing director of Montpellier Contemporain; Chiara Parisi, director of the Centre Pompidou Metz; Bice Curiger, director of the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles and Jean-François Chougnet, president of the Mucem in Marseille.

The letter follows the French prime minister’s announcement on 29 January of tightened restrictions on travel and large shopping centres and increased police checks on compliance with France’s 6pm-6am curfew, in an effort to stave off the “very heavy impact” of a third full national lockdown.

French cultural venues have been closed to the public since the second national lockdown was imposed in late October. Tentative plans for reopening the sector have been repeatedly pushed back: from 15 December until 7 January, and then until the end of January.

“We know the complexity of the current situation and the importance of the measures taken to counter the health crisis,” the authors of the petition wrote. However, they argue that visitors are at lower risk of contamination in museum spaces, which have developed “rigorous health protocols” since France eased its first national lockdown on cultural venues in May 2020.

“If the evolution of the pandemic in France were to finally lead the government to decree a new lockdown in the coming days, it would nonetheless remain essential that we can be among the first places to be authorised to reopen as soon as that is lifted,” the letter continues, invoking museums’ educational role and the “essential” need for them to promote mental well-being amid the pandemic. “We wish to be able to take care of visitors now,” it concludes. “Art, like health, helps to heal the human soul.”

The French petition echoes the appeal by a collective of Swiss museum leaders and professional bodies last week to “make culture and arts education accessible again” and “end the museum lockdown for the mental well-being of all”. Sam Keller, head of Fondation Beyeler, and Elena Filipovic of Kunsthalle Basel were among 19 directors of Basel-based institutions to sign the statement urging the Swiss Federal Council to allow individual visits to museums and exhibition spaces.

UPDATE (8 February): The editors of 11 French art publications, including The Art Newspaper France, have co-signed an open letter calling on President Emmanuel Macron to allow “a gradual reopening of places of culture, starting now with museums, heritage sites and art centres”. The signatories argue that a cautious reopening of museums—for example, on weekdays until 6pm—could serve as a model for easing restrictions on theatres and cinemas in the coming weeks. They write: “The sector's economic stakes are lower than for events or bars and restaurants, but they are real. Many private heritage sites depend on ticketing as their only source of revenue. Moreover, public or private, these places sustain an ecosystem that has been jeopardised by the crisis: artists, mediators, guides, designers, curators, communication agencies, student-interns, art critics, art newspapers and magazines.”

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