"Cultural institutions are central to the recovery of the City"

17 March 2021


"Cultural institutions are central to the recovery of the City. We can provide safe, well managed, and ventilated spaces where physical distancing is easy to monitor"

CIMAM members Jessica Morgan, Director, Dia Art Foundation, New York, and Sally Tallant, Director, Queens Museum, New York.

  • New York City’s museums, at their core, are neighborhood institutions whose missions are to engage and support the emotional and intellectual health and growth of our City’s residents.
  • New York City’s museums employ thousands of people across all five boroughs and from diverse backgrounds and professions, all of whom serve our missions. Our museums are committed to returning staff to our workplaces on a thoughtful, careful, and rigorously planned way that prioritizes the health and safety of our employees.
  • Cultural institutions are central to the recovery of the City. We can provide safe, well managed, and ventilated spaces where physical distancing is easy to monitor.
  • During the summer, the NYC Museums Reopening Task Force prepared COVID-19 Guidelines for Reopening NYC Museums. The document contained four components: Guidelines for Safely Reopening Museums, Guidelines for Safely Returning Museum Staff to the Workplace, and a Reopening Readiness "Punch List."
  • November 20, 2020. The museum working group (Adam D. Weinberg, Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, on behalf of the New York City Museums Reopening Task Force) sent a letter to the governor (Steve Cohen, New York Forward Advisory Board; Eric Gertler, Empire State Development) regarding further protocols and the reasons for museums to remain open in New York.
  • The letter to the governor summarizes the following points:
  1. Thanks to New York State’s guidance, we can confidently report that our museums are safe places for New Yorkers to visit during this pandemic.
  2. Collectively we have already welcomed back more than half a million visitors, the vast majority of them New Yorkers.
  3. Reopening the museum sector has supported thousands of New York State residents' jobs.
  4. Below the list of the involved institutions:
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The Bronx Museum of the Arts
  • Brooklyn Museum
  • Children's Museum of Manhattan
  • Dia Art Foundation
  • El Museo del Barrio
  • The Frick Collection
  • Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
  • The Jewish Museum
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Morgan Library & Museum
  • Museum of Arts and Design
  • Museum of the City of New York
  • Museum of Modern Art
  • Museum of the Moving Image
  • National September 11 Memorial & Museum
  • Neue Galerie
  • New Museum
  • New York Historical Society
  • Queens Museum
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
  • Staten Island Museum
  • The Studio Museum in Harlem
  • The Tenement Museum
  • Whitney Museum of American Art

Why should museums remain open and operational?

In 2020, museums and collections all over the world were deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; consequently, many public-facing institutions were required to take a position on their operations. The Museum Watch Committee saw the extent to which museums played a specific role in the discussions on COVID-related lockdown measures within wider fields such as arts and culture, entertainment, and leisure.

To monitor the roles and positions of institutions internationally, the Museum Watch Committee asked CIMAM members to identify the main arguments used worldwide to keep museums open and operational in these difficult times. It launched this project in November 2020.

This call to action activated contemporary art professionals worldwide, spanning Argentina, Australia, Belgium, India, Italy, Peru, Russia, Singapore, Spain, and the United States. They presented their main arguments to keep their museums open or reopen them soon and shared their experiences from the pandemic.

The below conclusions and examples aim to encourage and inspire modern and contemporary art museum professionals worldwide to keep their museums operational.


The scale of exhibition spaces, temperature, and air controls, as well as crowd management, make museums some of the safest public spaces. Museums have established very clear protocols and guidelines to enable both staff and visitors to remain safe in the museum and workspace.


Art and culture are essential to our individual and collective well-being. They offer one of the most positive ways of engaging with complexity and uncertainty in these difficult times. Museums contribute by engaging with and supporting the emotional and intellectual health and growth of citizens. They offer much-needed contact with the material, the physical, and the real, in a safe environment.


Museums support thousands of jobs and should be seen as drivers for economic recovery in the cities and countries where they are situated. Each museum is encouraged to demonstrate the number of jobs that it sustains in its city.


Museums are advised to come together with other museums and cultural institutions in their city. To have a common position and voice. To get stronger and stand collectively to push forward their petition. During the pandemic, many museums and cultural associations have worked closely with one another for the betterment of cultural sectors as a whole.


Without access to physical spaces, museums have seen an increase in the digitalization of their programs and activities. Either for survival or as an opportunity, museums have taken advantage of technology to upgrade their online presence and build new online audiences from all over the world. While many museums have seen their international visitor numbers reduced, they are now focused on engaging and attracting new local audiences.


Whether or not the government supports arts and culture, it is of key importance to maintaining an open dialogue. Museums should keep insisting on their significance to society at large, leveraging on arguments for why they are crucial spaces for citizenship and economic recovery.

→ Read the examples and ideas submitted by CIMAM Members from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, India, Italy, Peru, Russia, Singapore, Spain, USA.