UNESCO Report :: Museums Around the World in the Face of COVID-19

Heritage Stewardship

UNESCO Report :: Museums Around the World in the Face of COVID-19
May 2020 :: 31 pages
In recent months, the COVID-19 crisis has profoundly affected societies around the world, plunging the global economy into a deep recession.

With the majority of cultural institutions forced to close their doors, the cultural sector has been one of the most affected. Tourism has largely ceased, impacting surrounding communities both socially and economically, and plunging artists and cultural professionals into a state of extreme economic and social fragility. Confined populations, unable to share and celebrate their heritage – notably their intangible cultural heritage – have suffered the loss of fundamental and structuring cultural elements of their daily social and individual lives.

Despite the challenges posed by this unprecedented crisis, many cultural institutions and professionals
have continued to serve as a source of resilience and support to communities, devising new ways to provide access to culture and education in the context of containment measures. However, it should be noted that these innovations have not addressed the severe economic shortfalls experienced by cultural professionals. Moreover, almost half of the world’s population currently has no access to the Internet, resulting in unequal access to cultural resources.

Museums have been particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly 90% of them, or more than 85,000 institutions worldwide, having closed their doors during the crisis. The impact of these closures is not only economic, but also social. Museums play a vital role in our societies. They not only preserve our common heritage, but also provide spaces that promote education, inspiration and dialogue. Based on values of respect and cultural diversity, museums strengthen social cohesion, foster creativity and are conveyors of collective memory. Moreover, their role in the promotion of tourism is a key driver of sustainable economic development, both locally and nationally, which will be essential to overcoming the crisis in the coming months and years.

Faced with this situation, UNESCO launched a study to assess, on the basis of contributions from states and museum professionals, the impact of COVID-19 on museums and museum institutions. This initiative also seeks to understand how the sector has adapted to the constraints imposed by the pandemic and to explore ways of supporting affected institutions in the aftermath of the crisis. This report presents a first assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on the museum sector.


Media Release
Launch of UNESCO Report on museums around the world in the face of COVID-19
UNESCO launched a new Report on Museums Around the World in the Face of COVID-19, fruit of an international survey targeting museums, culture professionals and Member States.

This Report, presenting a first evaluation of the impact of COVID-19 across the museum sector, sheds new light on the key trends of the world’s museums, their reaction in the face of the crisis, their capacity for resilience, and the challenges of accessing culture.

The study reveals that the number of museums is estimated at around 95,000 in 2020, which represents a 60% increase compared to 2012. They are, however, very unevenly distributed across the globe. Museums have been particularly affected by the pandemic, as 90% of them closed their doors during the crisis and, according to the International Council of Museums (ICOM), more than 10% may never reopen. Facing the crisis, museums acted quickly to develop their presence on the Internet. However the digital divide is more evident than ever: only 5% of museums in Africa and the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were able to propose online content.

“This report not only provides a better understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on museum institutions and the challenges they will face following the health crisis, but also explores the ways to support museums in the aftermath of the crisis,” declared Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO. “There is an urgent need to strengthen policies that support this sector, which plays an essential role in our societies for the dissemination of culture, education, social cohesion and support to the creative economy.”

With a view to gather information on how the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak affects the culture sector, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) launched a global survey to analyze the impact of the quarantine measures. The ICOM report provides information on the situation of museums and their staff, the predicted economic impact, digitization and communication, museum security and the conservation of collections, and the situation of independent museum professionals.
This common reflection and inter-institutional cooperation provides updated data on museums and museum institutions, that are all the more important in this period of global challenge brought about by COVID-19.