Museums across England will have to close from 5 November for a month under the coronavirus lockdown measures announced at the weekend by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. According to guidelines published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on 31 October, museums and galleries have been ordered to shut down; Johnson says he expects the lockdown to last until 2 December. At the time of writing, the DCMS was due to issue a statement providing further information; members of parliament will vote on the measures on 4 November though the proposals are due to be approved.
The move puts English institutions, which closed for several months earlier this year during the first lockdown, in an even more precarious financial position. Sharon Heal, the director of the Museums Association advocacy group, wrote on Twitter: “Solidarity from Museums Association to all museums that reopened & now have to close; to all those furloughed, unfurloughed & soon to be refurloughed & to those that have been made redundant or face the prospect.”
A senior figure at a national museum who preferred to remain anonymous tells The Art Newspaper: “I think the best thing the government can do is to allow us access again to the Job Retention Scheme [which allows employers to furlough staff]. Also, clarity about next year’s Covid support, sooner rather than later, would be a help.” The chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for a month with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked.
Exhibition schedules will also be further disrupted following the government announcement. Tate Modern’s exhibition dedicated to the South African artist Zanele Muholi was due to open this week while the long-awaited Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, scheduled to open 15 November, will also likely be delayed. Tickets will also need to be refunded or rebooked; according to the website of the National Gallery in London, the exhibition of works by the 17th-century artist Artemisia Gentileschi is fully booked throughout November.
The British Museum says in a statement that it will close at 5pm on Wednesday 4 November: "We hope we will be able to reopen in early December and welcome visitors back to the museum. [It] remains open and accessible online and we will continue to share the collection, research and programmes in ways which do not require a trip to the museum." A spokeswoman adds that ticket holders will be notified of the closure and next steps regarding bookings.
Commercial galleries, deemed as non-essential, will also be required to close throughout the lockdown period. A spokeswoman for the London-based dealer Richard Saltoun says that the gallery will be closed from Thursday by law and will open by appointment if permitted. Thaddaeus Ropac gallery in Mayfair says it will also close to the public from Thursday but hopes also to have viewings by appointment depending on the new restrictions. The trade body, the Society of London Art Dealers, was unavailable for comment.
In Wales, which is governed by a devolved administration, museums closed on 24 October following the announcement of a firebreak lockdown by the Welsh government that is due to end 9 November. Museums and galleries remain open in Scotland in line with the latest Scottish government announcements. All museums across the island of Ireland are currently closed to the public; until 13 November in Northern Ireland and until 1 December in the Republic of Ireland.