Updated: Jul 2, 2020
According to data from UNESCO, COVID-19 temporarily closed 85,000 museums globally.
After the pandemic, one-third of all museums globally could downsize, and nearly 13 % may not reopen.
Closures will be uneven across the globe and have dramatic impacts in African, Arab, and Pacific countries.
Last month, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Council of Museums (ICOM) reported dire statistics about the impacts of COVID-19 on the global museum landscape. According to their surveys, about 90 percent of 95,000 museums closed their doors during the pandemic. Almost one third could downsize, according to estimates, and nearly 13 percent may not reopen.
The findings also expose alarming inequalities in regional impacts; the greatest concerns about permanent closure come from African, Arab, and Pacific countries, where museums are relatively young and scarce. Other concerns include inadequate security management, structural safety, and collections conservation during COVID-19 lockdowns.
These statistics warn of immeasurable losses to culture, history, and science. The current ICOM definition states that a museum acquires, conserves, researches, communicates, and exhibits the heritage of humanity and its environment “in the service of society and its development”, although a newly proposed revision emphasizes its social responsibilities and community partnerships.
With such a broad remit and so much diversity, the value of museums is therefore difficult to capture. However, by seeing the ways that museums are tackling the greatest global challenges of this moment, their unique and vital role in society becomes clearer, and their potential decimation becomes darker.