Swiss Museum Directors Join Forces to Call for End of Lockdown

A group of museums and exhibition venues in Basel, Switzerland, in conjunction with the city’s Conference of Museum Directors, has issued a call for the swift reopening of the nation’s cultural venues. In a letter released on Wednesday, the consortium argued that museums are necessary for the “mental well-being of all” and, when using the proper health precautions, do not pose a significant public health threat.

“The protection and hygiene concepts, which have been implemented since May 2020 and have been adapted to fit the latest requirements, have since been bolstered by experience,” reads the letter, which was signed by 18 museum directors.

“Individual exhibition and museum visits do not generate an accumulation of visitors,” the letter continued. “Especially for the local population, the encounter with cultural creation is an important means of contact in anxiety-provoking times, without causing much social movement.”

Among those who signed the letter were Elena Filipovic, of the Kunsthalle Basel; Roland Wetzel, of the Museum Tinguely in Basel; Josef Helfenstein, of the Kunstmuseum Basel; Sam Keller, of the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen; and Heidi Naef, of the Schaulager in Münchenstein.

The Basel Conference of Museum Director, an independent body comprised of the directors of the five state museums, is tasked with facilitating communication between the city’s cultural venues and the government. Asked about the letter’s origins, a spokesperson for the conference told ARTnews that the conference is “committed to preserving the cultural heritage of the Canton of Basel-Stadt and to guaranteeing the artistic freedom of the five state museums.”

Governments across Europe have imposed stricter lockdown measures and curfews in an effort to slow the spread of a more contagious virus variation first identified in Britain. A second lockdown has dealt a heavy blow to museums and other cultural venues on the continent, many of whom are struggling to stay financially solvent. All museums in France, for example, have remained closed after a scheduled December reopening was canceled amid a rising case count. But aside from Wednesday’s letter, few major museum directors in any country have been vocal about demanding an end to a lockdown.

This month, alarmed by the spiking cases of variants of COVID-19, the Swiss government ordered bars, museums, and other recreational spaces to remain shuttered through February. The nation of 8.5 million people is now facing a referendum on whether to roll back the government’s authority to impose a lockdown or other measures intended to mitigate the spread of the virus. A vote on whether to end the lockdown is expected as early as June.

The country’s museums, though, are hoping to end the lockdown before spring. The signatories urged the Swiss government to include museums in the first phase of easing restrictions.

“Museums and exhibitions engage with natural and cultural history, with art and its reflection on the present, which make them a critical counterpart and partner to reflect on new situations and crises,” reads the letter. “If physical access is limited or blocked, education and culture become fundamentally stunted.”

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