The National Gallery in London will be the first major gallery to welcome back visitors from 8 July. The Royal Academy, the Barbican, Margate’s Turner Contemporary, and all four of Tate’s locations are also set to open by the end of the month.
“As the nation’s gallery, we feel it is imperative we open our doors as soon as we are safely able to do so,” declared a spokesperson for the National Gallery. “Our role now, as ever, is to provide access to some of the world’s greatest art, to give people inspiration and solace.”
Other museums, however, will delay opening until August or even later following concerns about public safety. As cities across the country begin to reopen, certain areas like Leicester are now witnessing spikes in coronavirus cases.
Sam Thorne, the director of Nottingham Contemporary, explained that he will not open the museum until August: “we need this time to support a safe return for Nottingham Contemporary’s staff and visitors … we’re also mindful of the possibility of a second wave, especially seeing the situation in Leicester, which is only 30 minutes away from us.”
These announcements follow the government’s recent decision to allow shops, cinemas, pubs, restaurants, hairdressers, and many other industries to return to business on 4 July. Guidelines have been released detailing the new processes and facilities each industry must put in place to ensure visitor safety.
Museums, galleries and heritage centres must now introduce timed tickets, one-way routes, social distancing and regular deep cleans. The National Gallery have also installed “higher efficiency filters” in the air conditioning systems to increase the flow of fresh air.
The Royal Academy are initially only welcoming its ‘Friends’ scheme members and then the wider public on 16 July. The museum’s Chief Executive, Axel Rüger, remarked that “as visitor capacity will be greatly reduced due to social distancing, it will be an opportunity for a quieter, more contemplative experience in the galleries.”
Numerous museums praised the decision in a joint statement, which emphasised the importance of the arts for lifting our morale: “the British public have faced a wretched few months of isolation, loss, and anxiety in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. The reopening of museums—whose galleries speak to the creative, resilient power of the human spirit—will provide solace and inspiration as Britain looks to the future.”
Reviving the cultural sector will undoubtedly help to boost local economies too, but adherence to the health and safety guidelines will be imperative for avoiding a second wave of infections.