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Returning to the Museum

Re-evaluating the visitor experience

by Sophia Boosalis | 7th September 2020

Photograph by Erica Dezonne for Icon Sportswire (Source: Getty Images)

There have been recent reports of major art institutions including the Tate’s and National Gallery’s plan to cut hundreds of employees, citing redundancies and revenue loss in retail, catering, and publishing services. Museums continue to further incur additional losses in ticket sales for temporary exhibitions and general collections during the reopening phase. They can only accommodate a lower proportion of their normal visitors with additional costs in maintenance and safety. The Covid-19 guidelines in the art and cultural sector has changed the approach to the visitor experience in terms of congestion management and space capacity. Museums in England reopened their doors over the last couple of months with new precautions in place in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19. Big venues require visitors to book tickets online in advance to help manage the number of visitors and reduce queuing. Face coverings are required during the whole visit for everyone’s safety. Visitors follow a fixed route with hand-sanitization stations placed throughout the gallery. The National Gallery, the Wallace Collection, and the Royal Academy have reopened with some slight changes. The National Gallery created three one-way routes throughout the different parts of the collection which finish in the Impressionist rooms. The temporary shows, Titian: Love, Desire, Death and Nicolaes Maes, were extended due to the disruption in the exhibition schedule. The Wallace Collection has a one-way system in operation throughout the majority of the upstairs galleries. The Royal Academy of Art exhibitions Gauguin and the Impressionists and Leon Spilliaert have been extended for several weeks. The reduction in the number of people provides more freedom to move within special exhibitions. Large institutions like Tate, the Royal Academy, and the National Gallery were notorious for overbooking special exhibitions in the past. Blockbuster shows are headliners to attract a wide audience as well as raise the profile and prestige of the institution. Prior to Covid, the experience of visitors was treated as secondary to the profit margins and attendance figures. The disproportional number of people within small gallery spaces reduced visitor satisfaction. Overcrowding would cause an increased level of noise, more queues, and the violation of social distance detracted from the overall experience. However, this has all changed since the pandemic. The reduction in the maximum number of visitors in special exhibitions encourages individuals to freely pause and contemplate. The decrease in foreign tourism to the UK has reduced the negative impacts of over-tourism. Specific galleries within general collections are normally overpopulated with large swathes of tourists who come to take their selfies. The overcrowding of rooms leads to overall service failure and visitor dissatisfaction. The limitation in the number of visitors further benefits the museum environment. Visitors can now actively seek out the solitude of the museum and soak up the atmosphere in isolation. Visiting general collections in person has become a much richer experience since Covid-19.


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