33% of museums worldwide face layoffs, 6% at risk of closure, key webinar hears


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Dubai: One-third of the world’s museums face downsizing while six per cent could close permanently because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a webinar organised by the UAE committee of ICOM heard on Wednesday.

The alarming projection was shared by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) during ‘The Future of Museums in the Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic’ webinar hosted by ICOM-UAE.

Global lockdowns and grounded flights forced by the pandemic have hit museums hard by keeping away visitors and tourists.

‘Traumatic lockdown’

Alberto Garlandini, President, ICOM said: “Museums are going through the most serious crisis in their modern history… ICOM surveys on the impact of COVID-19 have confirmed a widespread climate of uncertainty about the future…Many professionals, especially consultants and independent workers – often young and motivated colleagues – are facing furloughs and terminations. We are risking losing their knowledge and commitment, which would be a catastrophe. The loss of income due to the lockdown has been traumatic.”

ICOM-UAE plans
The UAE has fared relatively well – museums had closed only from March 2020 to May 2020 for the most part, Dr Essam Al Najdy, director of ICOM-UAE, said. There are 164 museums in the UAE. The pandemic had led to a 40 per cent drop in museum visitor numbers in the UAE, Dr Al Najdy said. However, there has been a surge in virtual audiences from all over the world “visiting” UAE’s museums because of the online exhibitions launched during the pandemic. ICOM-UAE has “optimistic and ambitious” plans to offset any future threats from the pandemic, Al Najdy added. ICOM-UAE is also “building a special programme” for private museums – which are not supported by government budgets – in the UAE to help them join ICOM, he said.

More than 50 per cent of museums have “complained” they have not received direct or indirect financial support from governments in the crisis, he added. ICOM is “advocating for emergency funds at all international tables”.

Most vulnerable

From the six per cent of expected museum closures, 22 per cent – the highest rate – will be seen in the Arab world, said Ech-Cherki Dahmali, vice-president of the ICOM Arab Regional Alliance. He added that most at risk were small museums near archaeological and historical sites that depend on income from tourism and entry tickets.

The two-hour webinar featured speakers from 10 ICOM national committees, including the UAE. The virtual event was moderated by ICOM-UAE President Rashad Bukhash, who said he remains “very optimistic” about the outlook, thanks mainly to the UAE government’s response in handling the crisis.


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