Some of the leading museum directors in the Netherlands have announced that they will oppose a new law in the country that would affect future museum visitors. The legislation relates to the public and how it will be able to attend public institutions like art galleries and museum spaces when they reopen their doors. The idea is to make it mandatory for museum-goers to have a coronavirus test before they will be allowed inside. The legislation would also affect other cultural institutions, such as theatres and live music venues. However, it has drawn an initial poor response from some of the leading names in the museum sector who don’t think the proposed system would be workable.
Museum leaders in the Netherlands responded to the proposals in May by saying that they feared the legislation would add a burden to a sector that has already suffered under social distancing regulations in the country. The group said that they thought it would lead to an unnecessary extra cost to reopening their institutions and could dampen their income stream as it would probably act as a drag on future attendance numbers.
Signatories to an open letter published in the Dutch press included Rein Wolfs, the Stedelijk’s director, Taco Dibbits, the Rijksmuseum’s director and the Van Gogh Museum’s director, Emilie Gordenker. In all, about a hundred museum directors, artists and other cultural institution leaders signed up to the letter which said the new legislation would bring about too many barriers to be practical.
As the new bill was voted on in the Dutch parliament, the leaders of some of the Netherlands’ most prominent museums amped up their rhetoric to try and sway public opinion against the proposal. According to the Dutch government’s estimates, the law would need to be supported by a €1 billion fund to become effective. This is so that regional testing facilities throughout the country could be set up such that the type of rapid coronavirus tests that would be needed for the scheme to work would be on offer in sufficient numbers. The idea is that only those people who obtain a negative result would then be allowed to enter a cultural institution. A positive test or no test result at all, on the other hand, would make it illegal to step foot inside. Those opposed to the legislation pointed out that the total costs of running it would be prohibitive.
A Financial Burden
The group of directors said that the coronavirus tests would set would-be visitors back €7.50 each time they wanted to attend a museum, a gallery, a theatre or a similar institution. They described the proposals as a ‘death blow’, pointing out that cultural venues had already been struggling to survive after dwindling visitors in 2020 and some permanent closures that had occurred as recently as this year.
The group also claimed that none of the proposed €1 billion funding for the scheme will actually go to the museum sector under the legislation. They claimed that the cultural sector could no longer cope financially and said that it would require additional government support to help implement it as it was intended. This is because the funding as it has been laid out in the law would be to support all cultural venues, such as festivals and sporting events, not just museums and galleries.
Instead of the proposed scheme to require museum visitors to have had a recent coronavirus test, the group said that limiting visitor numbers and offering pre-booked tickets were more workable and easier to administrate. In their open letter, the group stated that the ‘extensive experience’ gained in 2020 can be applied once more as the country opens up again. They said that this approach would not require any new legislation nor financial investments to be made. Nevertheless, the bill received approval from Dutch MPs and the system is expected to come into force by July.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.