Nearly half of all Britons uncomfortable revisiting UK museums and galleries

Art lovers will have rejoiced over last week’s announcement that UK museums will begin to reopen from 8 July. When the day arrives, how many visitors can arts institutions actually expect to come knocking on their doors? According to an Ipsos MORI report released on 2 July, it will not be a deluge.

Polling by the London-based market research company revealed that nearly half of the British public feel uncomfortable about returning to museums and galleries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 49% of Britons reported feeling ‘not very’ or ‘not at all comfortable’ visiting an indoor museum or exhibition compared with 34% of people who reported feeling ‘very comfortable’ or ‘fairly comfortable’. The report’s findings come despite planned measures to ensure visitor safety to such institutions such as pre-booking tickets online, wearing face masks within galleries and reducing opening hours.

The report also revealed Britons are much more comfortable with shopping in supermarkets (55%) and in other stores (51%). However, they are much less inclined to go to bars and restaurants over arts institutions with 60% reporting feeling ‘not very’ or ‘not at all comfortable’ with dining out. Indoor cinemas and theatres also hold less appeal with 59% reporting feeling ‘not very’ or ‘not at all comfortable’ catching a movie.

It seems the road to some semblance of ‘normality’ will be a long one. In the meantime, the UK government have pledged to help cultural, arts and heritage institutions along the way with a £1.57 billion support package. The £880 million in emergency grants and £270 million in repayable loans will seek to protect the future of Britain’s museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues. Funding will also be provided to restart construction work at cultural and heritage sites halted by the pandemic.

Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the package would aim to preserve the “crown jewels” in the UK arts sector and the grants would last throughout this financial year. The package has been warmly received by industry leaders including Arts Council chairman, Sir Nicholas Serota who said the funding was “a very good result” and “gives us the tools to help build a recovery”.

However, Dowden confirmed that the support would save the majority but not all jobs in the culture sector. “Sadly, not everyone is going to be able to survive and not every job is going to be protected and sadly… we will see further redundancies”, Dowden said.

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