More than a dozen directors of German museums write in a letter to the Conference of Ministers of Culture and Monika Grütters, Minister of State for Culture, that museums “have not been noticed as places of infection since the beginning of the pandemic”. They are looking for ways to satisfy the “hunger for culture”.
While Eva Kraus, the director of the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, expressed her fear in an interview with Deutschlandfunk that she would permanently lose her audience (“at some point you get used to it”), asks Susanne Gaensheimer, director of the NRW art collection, in an interview with SZ: “Where are the places in our society where one can stay protected? We can be life rafts.” For all of them, it’s all about making art experiences possible again in the midst of the pandemic.
But the museums have also been going on over the past few months, offering to open their often huge halls and halls to school classes who cannot be taught during the pandemic due to a lack of space in their buildings. Already during the first lockdown in the spring, Gaensheimer had started online education programs for schoolchildren and invited classes to spend class time in the museum.
Her colleague Christina Végh, director of the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, also saw it as her duty to look for creative solutions for an extraordinary time: “I would like to call out to the schools: We are here!” In addition, not only are the exhibition halls and workshops empty, museum educators are also able to educate school classes appropriately.
International museums are used, for example as vaccination centers
But while German authorities have apparently more or less written off the vacant space, more ingenuity is emerging internationally: Museums are used as areas for combating corona, very directly. In the London Science Museum, for example, a tourist magnet in the Kensington district that has been closed for months, a vaccination center is currently being set up under the direction of the British health system NHS, which is expected to open in February, like the British art magazine Art Newspaper writes.
A vaccination center will also be set up in January at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley – which TV viewers are familiar with as the backdrop for the “Peaky Blinders” series – while vaccinations have been taking place at the Thackeray Museum of Medicine in Leeds since December.
“Some of the first museums in the world were hospitals.”
Conceptually, Castello di Rivoli, headed by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, is probably the most advanced of the retrofitted museums: the pilot project is entitled “L’Arte Cura – Art Helps”. The museum has worked closely with the health authorities of Rivoli, a suburb of the city of Turin, and is now awaiting approval by the Italian Ministry of Health, according to a press release.
Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, director of the museum, is quoted as saying that “art has always helped and healed”. The baroque palace in which the museum resides is well prepared – there is sufficient space to implement the applicable hygiene measures, and the “friendly museum guards” are trained to monitor the behavior of visitors. Christov-Bakargiev: “Art can be a form of therapy and a way to treat trauma. In fact, some of the first museums in the world were hospitals – and we would now like to show our gratitude for that.”
It is incomprehensible, according to Christov-Bakargiev, who is best known in Germany as the artistic director of the 13th Documenta, why all the museums whose exhibitions have been closed cannot be made accessible to the public in another form. Not only have the most modern air conditioning systems been installed, but also thermal scanners that monitor whether people who have a fever are in the audience. Vaccination booths, a waiting room and an area where newly vaccinated people are looked after were installed on the third floor of the castle, which is more than 10,000 square meters in size. Because the art has not been dismantled, visitors can view the wall painting by Swiss artist Claudia Comte during the treatment before they leave the converted museum after a tour of the display collections on the first and second floors. Incidentally, the visit is free of charge.