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Museums in Belgium and Italy to reopen mid-May under phased lifting of lockdown

Belgian museum director says his institution is “ready to serve as a test room”

The Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp will reopen next month Photo: © Bram Goots

A Belgian museum director says he welcomes the opportunity for his gallery to act as a “test room” for cultural institutions opening up post-lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. The Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst (MHKA) in Antwerp plans to reopen on 19 May in line with the guidelines issued by the National Security Council, which includes the Belgian prime minister and Minister-Presidents from the regions.

The MHKA will present the work of the Belgian filmmaker Els Dietvorst and California-born artist Tramaine de Senna when it reopens. Bart De Baere, the director of the contemporary art museum, says in an online statement: "Museums are like parks; spaces in which the individual experience can intertwine with the public space of being together. In the coming months, as a society, we face the challenge to find a new, positive balance between personal freedom and care for our relationship with others. We, at the MHKA, are ready to serve as a test room for that post-lock down experience.”

But the Brussels Times newspaper points out that relaxation of these measures can only happen if social distancing is maintained, face masks are available, hygiene rules and workplace protocols are respected, and up to 40,000 tests a day are carried out.

An online statement from the MHKA adds: “Together with our fellow museums in Antwerp and Flanders, we hope that, as a test case, we will be able to provide experiences that will allow other cultural sub-sectors [such as opera and theatre] to reopen.” Crucially, the MHKA says it wants to “make a case for reopening, in the wake of the museums, art spaces such as Wiels [in Brussels] and Z33 [in Hasselt], and large [commercial] art galleries such as Zeno X Gallery or Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp.”

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts, comprising six museums based in Brussels, will re-open gradually. “The Old Masters Museum will reopen to the public on Tuesday 19 May. The precise prevention measures will be announced very shortly. The other collections of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium will reopen at a later stage,” says a statement on the museums' website.

Meanwhile, the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has outlined lockdown easing measures which include reopening museums, cultural venues and libraries on 18 May; this also depends on implementing necessary safety measures. Conte warned: "If we do not respect the precautions the curve will go up, the deaths will increase, and we will have irreversible damage to our economy. If you love Italy, keep your distance."