Covid-19: Museums in the storm

Falling attendance and revenues, the health crisis is blowing a great deal of uncertainty on the temples of art, which must adapt their programming.

A Wednesday in September, 3 p.m. The surroundings of the Louvre pyramid are deserted and the basement is no longer crowded. Attendance, resources, programming: the effect of the Covid-19 crisis on institutions is multifaceted. "The spectacular drop in the number of visitors to the permanent collections - which usually counts more than 70% of tourists - will have repercussions on ticket sales, with consequences for our budgets for the acquisition and restoration of works, indexed to these revenues" , explains Sébastien Allard, director of the paintings department. Despite the positive effect of the opening of the exhibitions, the Orsay Museum and the Center Pompidou report about 30% of their average attendance - of which 55% and 40% respectively are tourists in normal times.

On the other hand, places with a more local or more specialized public are less affected. At the Musée d'Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, visited mainly by amateurs, according to its director, Fabrice Hergott, "the exhibitions are working well and the number of visitors to the permanent collections is 60 to 70% of its usual level. "It is the same at the Museum of Fine Arts in Lyon where" Picasso. Bathers and bathers "continues to attract, observes Isabelle Bertolotti, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in the regional capital where work is being completed. And it will be interesting to discover the figures of private places, such as the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which reopened recently. Finally, of a more modest size, centers such as the Maison des arts in Malakoff or the Crédac in Ivry-sur-Seine also have satisfactory data.

The case of the Palais de Tokyo is separate, between turmoil and overflow of energy. In this place whose own resources amount to 63% of the budget, the crisis is leading to a profound change in the economic model. "Privatization revenues have collapsed to such a level that we did not seek to raise numbers but to open up ridership to a less familiar audience by chartering buses to Greater Paris," said President Emma Lavigne. A circle of eco-responsible patrons has been created, with the principle of sharing experiences and sponsorship in kind for adapting the building to the energy transition. And the “So far everything is fine” exhibition, the idea of ​​which was launched in June, attracted up to 5,000 visitors a day in September - this is an invitation to students from the Kourtrajmé school in Montfermeil, directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, JR and Ladj Ly. "We are looking for artists who are able to catch up with the times and promote awareness," Emma Lavigne says of the next exhibition, "Antibody".

Some museums are tempted to refocus on their collections. But the situation is paradoxical because it is the exhibitions that attract the local public

In museums as well as in private foundations, most exhibitions are maintained - often extended or staggered - with one important nuance: the explosion in insurance premiums as after 9/11. Many expect a recovery in the spring, but the risk of another wave looms large. As Serge Lasvignes, president of the Center Pompidou, underlines: "We are planning until 2023 without constraints, but this is only possible thanks to the support of the State. For this reason, we will pay particular attention to the circulation of works and to the resonance of the programs with contemporary concerns on discrimination, gender and the protection of the planet. "For Fabrice Hergott, it is even the notion of institutional responsibility that is at stake:" We realize how precious it is to be able to show art. So we have to work on it even more seriously, in a less spectacular and more transmission oriented way. "

However, some museums are tempted to refocus on their collections. But the situation is paradoxical because it is the exhibitions that attract the local public. According to Sébastien Allard, "national networks are essential, but we also need contacts with foreign countries to avoid turning in on oneself and" the patrimonialization of heritage ". The crisis probably offers an interesting opportunity to renew our look at works, especially old art, in the light of contemporary issues, as "The Black Model" did at the Musée d'Ursay last year. In this era of deep, and probably lasting, renewals, uncertainties are managed with the flexibility of tightrope walkers.

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