As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, artistic institutions are rushing to develop digital programming so that their audiences can safely engage with their catalogs from home. However, a number of museums have recently announced plans to reopen with social distancing measures in place as soon as next month, including Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp and Galleria Borghese in Rome. Although the spirit behind these plans is probably well-intentioned, opening enclosed public spaces prematurely is risky at best and fatally dangerous at worst.
Furthermore, there seems to be a similar, problematic thread linking the messaging behind reopening certain spaces. Last week, Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, said that “there are some things more important than living” as a reason for accelerating the reopening of businesses in the midst of the outbreak. Bart De Baere, the director of Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst, struck a comparable tone in his online statement regarding the reopening of the museum on May 19th. “Museums are like parks; spaces in which the individual experience can intertwine with the public space of being together,” De Baere said. “In the coming months, as a society, we face the challenge to find a new, positive balance between personal freedom and care for our relationship with others. We, at the MHKA, are ready to serve as a test room for that post-lock down experience.”
Both Patrick and De Baere seem to be suggesting that they’re willing to offer their institutions up as sacrifices in the name of jump-starting society, as though the universe will simply reset itself if human beings go back to their usual activities while taking certain precautions. However, what both the leaders of museums and American states appear to be failing to take into account is the damage their actions could inflict upon business owners and arts workers. These communities would be making themselves even more vulnerable than they already are so that patrons could have the pleasure of eating at a restaurant or gazing at a painting in a gallery.
Observer reached out to the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst to request a comment from a museum employee and will update this story in the event of a response.