Impact of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic on the arts and cultural heritage

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Announcement posted in the door of a public library in Island Bay, New Zealand that it is closed due to the pandemic, and will waive all late return fees.

The 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic had a substantial impact on the performing arts and cultural heritage (GLAM) sectors. The global health crisis and the uncertainly resulting from it profoundly affected organisations' operations as well as individuals – both employed and independent – across the sector. Arts and culture sector organisations attempted to uphold their (often publicly funded) mission to provide access to cultural heritage to the community, maintain the safety of their employees and the public, and support artists where possible.

By March 2020, across the world and to varying degrees, museums, performance venues, and other cultural institutions had been indefinitely closed with their exhibitions, events and performances cancelled or postponed. In response there were intensive efforts to provide alternative services through digital platforms, and an awareness that there would be much new cultural work being produced which had been inspired by the events.

Many individuals across the sector would temporarily or permanently lose contracts or employment with varying degrees of warning and financial assistance available, equally, financial stimulus from governments, and charities for artists, would provide greatly differing levels of support depending on the sector and the country.


Through the first months of 2020, arts and culture sector organisations around the world progressively restricted their public activities and closed completely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Starting with China, and East Asia, by mid-to-late March most organisations worldwide had either closed voluntarily or by government mandate. This included libraries,[1] museums,[2][3][4] theatre and stage productions,[5] and arts festivals.[5][6]

As of March 2020, dates for re-opening and expectations for when cultural organisation can fully "return to normal" are unknown for most of the world. Survey data from March in the USA indicated that, when museums were permitted to reopen, the public "intent to visit" metric for cultural activities should be unchanged overall from prior to the pandemic – but with a shifted preference for the kind of activity. Data indicated there would be a decreased willingness for attendance of activities in confined spaces, large immobile groups (such as cinemas), or tactile activities; with an increase in interest for activities outdoors or with large spaces (such as zoos and botanic gardens).[7][8]

The following is a list of notable closures, announcements and policies affecting the cultural sector.
For comprehensive lists:

 Egypt. From March 23 until March 31, 2020 all museums and archaeological sites in Egypt were closed to the public for sterilization and disinfection. During this period a programme to raise the awareness of the sites and museums’ employees on ways of prevention and protection against the virus took place.[9]

China China. On 23 January 2020 all museums were closed throughout mainland China, As the first country for the virus to spread, China was also the first to close its GLAMs.[5] By Mid-March Chinese institutions had slowly and cautiously begun to allow various public activities to be restored with the Shanghai Museum and the Power Station of Art (also in Shanghai) reopening on the 13th. Both had restricted visitor numbers and the latter noted that, “We have also prepared a temporary quarantine area on every floor in case of any emergencies. All visitors must have their temperature taken, as well as present their ID card and registered health code, before entering.”[10] Some other private galleries in China had begun to open, as had some institutions in South Korea and Japan with limited service (such as by private tour only). By the end of the month 40% of mainland China's tourism attractions had reopened yet most art venues remained closed.[11]

 Hong Kong. Following the mainland, Hong Kong closed its museums five days later.[5]

 Japan. On 28 February Japan announced all museums would be closed "until 17 March".[5]

 Qatar. Qatar museums run by the state closed on 12 March. A forthcoming collaborative show on Picasso's Studio's due to be held by the Fire Station and Musée Picasso has been indefinitely postponed.[12]

 South Korea. On 23 February, one month after mainland China, South Korea closed all museums "until further notice".[5]


 Austria. All federal public museums were closed by directors in response to government precautionary measures banning large events and arrivals from Italy. The Albertina Modern museum was supposed to open on 13 March but this opening was indefinitely postponed.[12]

 Belgium. All cultural activities regardless of size were banned by the government from 14 March, which involved the closure of the Jan van Eyck exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.[12]

 France. Weeks earlier than French government regulations required it, staff of The Louvre "almost unanimously" voted to force the closure of the museum on the 1st of March, due to concerns for their own health.[13] It closed for three days, reopened,[14] accepted only visitors with pre-booked tickets from the 9th,[5] then closed definitively on the 13th by government mandate.[15] Reconstruction of the Notre-Dame cathedral following the 2019 fire was also halted because of worker security.[12]

 Germany. On 16 March 2020, the German chancellor Angela Merkel announced in a press conference that the government and minister-presidents had together agreed upon guidelines to limit social contacts in public spaces. Theatres, opera houses, concert halls, museums, exhibition spaces, cinemas, amusement parks and zoos needed to close.[16]

 Italy. As the worst hit country in Europe during February and March, national closures were announced on the 23rd of February with an initial reopening date of 1 March.[17] Museums outside the "red zone" of highly infected areas in the North were then permitted to re-open as long as visitors stayed 1 meter apart,[18] this was later rescinded and all institution were closed until at least 3 April.[19]

 Netherlands. On 12 March, Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum announced they would close until at least the end of that month.[5] The following day, having previously announced the reading room and exhibition would remain open, the National Archives announced their complete closure until April 6.[20] On 30 March, the painting The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen (1884) by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from the Singer Laren museum while the museum was closed.[21]

 Poland. On 11 March a regional government "recommendation" was made that all cultural venues in the tricity area be closed for two weeks.[22] Museums, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and other cultural venues such as theatres and cinemas were then closed by the national government with an initial re-opening date of 25 March.[12]

 Russia. The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art was one of the first to announce its closure from 14 March. Many Moscow museums announced closures in response to the mayor's ban on gatherings of 50 people or more on 17 March, and late that day the Russian culture ministry ordered the suspension of all public activities by federal and regional institutions, which resulted in many more closures from 18 March.[12]

 Spain. On 11 March, publicly owned museums in Madrid, including The Prado, were closed indefinitely.[5] The Sagrada Família indefinitely suspended construction works and closed the monument to visitors on 13 March and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao closed on 14 March.[12]

 Sweden. On 18 March, the Swedish network and cooperation organisation for public museums of national interest, Centralmuseernas samarbetsråd, recommended all their 13 members to close their public venues if the risk for transmission of the virus was assessed as high in their respective regions. Only two of them stayed open.[23]

 United Kingdom. The earliest closures of cultural institutions in the UK were announced from 13 March by Wellcome Collection, South London Gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, The Photographers' Gallery and Amgueddfa Cymru.[12] Many other organisations announced closures on the 17 and 18 March.[24][25] The National Trust closed all ticketed properties by 20 March but aimed to keep gardens and parklands open, free of charge so that people could access the open space whilst social distancing.

The planned major exhibition at the National Gallery in London of Artemisia Gentileschi, set to open on April 4, was postponed for an indeterminate time due not only to the gallery's closure but also the inability of artworks on loan from Italy and America being unable to fly during the global shutdown in air traffic.[26]

North America
 United States. The Broadway League announced on March 12 that all Broadway theatres would cease performances for at least a month, even though New York State governor Andrew Cuomo had at the time allowed them to continue at 50% capacity.[27]

 Australia. Beginning from the second week of March Australian institutions began announcing reduced services, and then complete closures.[28] Opera Australia announced it would close on the 15th.[29] On the 24th the national closure of all cultural institutions was required.

 New Zealand. New Zealand implemented a policy on March 23 that all institutions would be closed.[30] Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa closed from 6pm March 20.[31] Auckland War Memorial Museum announced that it would close from March 21.[32]

South America
 Argentina. All the museums, cultural activities and gatherings were cancelled in the city of Buenos Aires on the 12th of March.[33] National libraries continue to offer means of contact through the main educational website of the Ministry of Education.[34]

 Brazil. Museums which have closed[when?] in Brazil include the Museum of Art of São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, the Pinacoteca, the Itaú Cultural, the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, the Institute Tomie Ohtake, the Institute Moreira Salles, and the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro and the Instituto Inhotim contemporary art centre in Brumadinho.[6]


Facing at least several weeks of closure of their buildings and publicly-accessible spaces, many cultural sector organisations and individual artists turned to digital activities as a way to continue fulfilling their organisational mission and obtain or retain an audience.[35][36] For example, the BBC launched a "virtual festival of the arts" called Culture in quarantine.[37] Having been the first country to enforce quarantine upon its population, museums in China were also the first to provide new digital services (primarily for a domestic audience, but to a lesser extent also internationally). In January the National Cultural Heritage Administration (NCHA) said they would "encourage cultural heritage museums and institutions around the country to utilise existing digital resources and launch online exhibitions as appropriate, providing the public with safe and convenient online services."[38][39]

Many institutions turned to their existing social media presences to engage their audience online. Quickly, the Twitter hashtag #MuseumFromHome became particularly popular for museums sharing their content in innovative ways. Various institutions were singled out for particular praise by industry analysts for their successful social media content strategy during the shutdown. These included the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago for filming their penguins visiting other animals; the Royal Academy in London for asking its followers to draw their own artworks; and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma for providing an authentic and unusual 'voice' to their social media - from their security guard.[40][41] Individual actors and musicians offered impromptu performances via their personal accounts from their homes – singing covers, performing live book or poetry readings, or creatively live-streaming themselves doing both normal and unusual activities.[42]

Various internet journalism and Industry associations published lists of new digitally-accessible arts and culture content for their country. Including Argentina,[43] Australia,[44] Ireland,[45] Italy,[46][47] and the UK.[48][49]

By sector

Aquaria and zoos

The impact of the pandemic has been a uniquely serious crisis for some zoos. Despite experiencing the effects of SARS, the Bali bombing, MERS and the Global Financial crisis of 2007-2008 as well as the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, the operators of Taronga Zoo Sydney, said "we’ve not seen anything like this".[50]

In response to the absence of visitors, several institutions launched new webcams and livestreams of their animal habitats as well as feeding sessions. In one case, penguins were taken by their keepers to other animal enclosures.[51][52]

Cinema and television

The production and release schedule of many films was suspended or delayed, with some awards ceremonies and festivals being cancelled entirely. March 2020 estimates were of approximately $5b losses for the industry.[53] Examples of adaptations included the early home media release (Frozen II), theatrical releases being cancelled entirely (Lost in Russia), and online premieres (Enter the Fat Dragon).

Similarly, the television industry saw production halted on many scripted and unscripted[disambiguation needed] shows. This included series which had been running uninterrupted for the proceeding several decades, including: The Bold and the Beautiful (season 34), Casualty (season 34), Days of Our Lives (season 55), Home and Away (season 33), Saturday Night Live (season 45), and The Young and the Restless (season 47). Some shows continue with production but without their normal studio audience.[54] In parallel to the suspension of entertainment content production, there was a marked increase in the use of video streaming services for entertainment (as well as videoconferencing services such as Zoom for work and education) due to the massive increase of people staying at home – causing unprecedented strain on global internet infrastructure.[55] In response, Netflix and YouTube both decreased the default video quality to standard definition, Disney+ delayed its launch in France, and Xbox requested developers to schedule software updates at times of lower network congestion.[56]

Due to the global cancellation of professional sports, the loss of advertising revenue and broadcast rights derived from the broadcasting of sports events is expected to threaten the financial viability of many competitions.[57]


On 24 March, the Internet Archive announced the creation of a "National Emergency Library", which has suspended waitlists on 1.4m ebooks from their lending library – books that are not in the public domain according to US law – in order to ensure uninterrupted access to these books for educators and students.[58][59] Similarly, the National library of Israel announced it would be offering free audiobooks.[60] The Library of the National Congress of Argentina created activities including public readings and delivery of selected artworks through Instagram.[61]


“This year, the paint has more time to dry.”
A statement from the Art Gallery of New South Wales announcing a delay to the Archibald Prize portraiture exhibition until after the health crisis, "when art will be needed more than ever".[62]

Many websites were rapidly updated to focus on digital resources. In mid-March the Museum Computer Network published an extensive "Guide to Virtual Museum Resources, E-Learning, and Online Collections".[63] Lists also were published of fine-art museums with existing interactive services (notably those already "partners" of Google Arts & Culture).[64]

The Philbrook Museum of Art's rapid relaunch their website in late-March – in order "for us all to spend some time practicing social distancing and experiencing the #MuseumFromHome" – was described as a model example of how an institution could "Reorganise, Reuse and Rethink" its activities.[65] Other specific examples included Europeana publishing a digital gallery of images relating to the theme of handwashing[66] and the Museum of New Zealand publishing a "little page of calm" (a reference to the 1997 bestselling book Little book of calm).[67]

American art museum Indianapolis Contemporary has announced permanent closure as a result of the financial strain.[68]


“It is very hard financially and if you have lost the momentum you have built up over time," ... But this is also an ideal time for artists to do what it is they are supposed to be doing: create art."
Musician and performer, Tim Minchin[69]

Many musicians delayed the releases of albums due to the pandemic (including Lady Gaga and Willie Nelson),[70] some moved up the release dates of their upcoming albums (including Dua Lipa and Sufjan Stevens),[71] and others (including Nine Inch Nails and Phish) released new albums with little or no notice.[72][73] In the middle of March, Bob Dylan released a single 17 minute new song called "Murder Most Foul", his first piece of original material in eight years.[74] The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest, set to take place in May in Rotterdam, Netherlands, was canceled by the European Broadcasting Union in March.[75] This marked the first time the annual contest had not taken place since its first installment in 1956.[76]

Individually and collectively, musicians organised online performances, often with musical sections referencing the fact of social isolation or home-quarantine, via their own social media platforms. Some were especially planned and prepared; some were impromptu. For example, cellist YoYo Ma performed "Going Home" by Antonín Dvořák, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra renamed themselves the "West Australian Social Distancing Orchestra" and played a re-arranged version of Boléro by Maurice Ravel and an amateur choir gathered the contributions of more than 1000 people from 18 countries to create a video performance of “Close To You” by The Carpenters.[77] Many musicians, singers and songwriters adapted to the crisis by turning to teaching online as there was both a sudden increase in people wanting to learn instruments, and a drop in paid public performance opportunities.[78]

Several special remote-participation concerts were organised to provide entertainment to the public, and to raise awareness methods to combat the virus, notably physical distancing. The iHeart Living Room Concert for America concert (hosted by Elton John) was broadcast on American TV and radio, while Together at Home is a "virtual concert series". The quickly organised "Instagram Live Music Festival"Isol Aid (a reference to Live Aid) of 72 Australian bands was broadcast on the weekend of 21–22 March. Each artist performed from wherever the were self isolating and "... play a 20-minute set streamed live on their Instagram accounts, and then tag-team the next artist to play",[79][80].

Performing arts

New (or a newly expanded range) free online streaming of previously recorded theatrical performances was provided by many institutions.[81] For example, the Metropolitan Opera of New York broadcast a new opera each evening, including an entire Ring Cycle performed during the 2010–12 seasons, via their own app,[82] and the Bolshoi Ballet company of Moscow made available six of their recorded performances via YouTube for 24 hours each.[83][84] The West End production of The Wind in the Willows was also streamed for UK residents.[85]

Individual actors, such as Patrick Stewart and Sam Neill, entertained from isolation in order to " in this together and that this has to take the form of being apart", as Neill described his contribution of comedic relief.[86] Stewart, a trained Shakespearian actor, broadcast himself reading one sonnet each day via Instagram.[87]


SiriusXM offered free streaming of their subscription-based radio service from April 2 to May 15.[88] NPR continued to produce new episodes of its Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! quiz panel show, although it was no longer recorded in front of a live audience, and live tapings in Buffalo and Atlanta were canceled .[89][90][91]


Budgets and employment

Due to the closures, revenues for cultural organisations reliant on ticket sales were expected to cause devastating effects upon revenues, with consequent impacts upon organisational staffing, and on independent artists and professionals. This is due to the fact that the arts and culture is a sector of national economies characterised by particularly a high proportion of self-employment.[92] For example, by the 20th of March the Cirque du Soleil had laid off 95% of its workforce and closed traveling circus performances operating in seven countries,[93] The world commercial art market declined 5% in 2019 compared to the previous year, and is expected to decline further in 2020 – with 6 of the world's 10 largest auction houses operating exclusively in China. Major art fairs such as Hong Kong Arts Festival and Art Basel were cancelled, furthering a shift towards online purchases and the creation of VIP "online viewing rooms" rather than physical displaying at art auctions.[94]

Arts and culture sector budgetary and employment reports from individual countries included:
 Australia. Opera Australia – the nation's largest performing arts company – temporarily stood down nearly all its staff[95] amid speculation it would also need to sell major assets in order to avoid bankruptcy.[96] By the 23rd of March, 255,000 cultural events had been cancelled with an estimated revenue loss of $A280 million, self reported through the crowdsourced website[97]

 Italy. In March, when many institutions closed for the first time since WWII, the state-funded museum sector had been valued at €27 billion or 1.6% of national GDP – slightly smaller than the agriculture sector.[98]

 United States. As the pandemic spread and closures became the standard not the exception, institutions started publishing expected revenue shortfall calculations, began to fire staff.[99] For example: the Metropolitan opera expects to lose $60m in revenue;[100] the Metropolitan Museum expects to lose $100m in revenue with likely layoffs;[101] and SFMOMA furloughed 300 staff in the expectation of a 40% decrease in revenue.[102] The Science Museum of Minnesota expected to lose $15m in revenue over three months. Consequently, it "temporarily" laid off most of its staff in an announcement via a Google Hangouts videocall in late March.[103] Meanwhile, staff across the museum began to unionise, even though "Social distancing orders prevent the in-person meetings required to sign the cards required to file for union elections.[104]

Financial stimulus

With the extensive financial disruption across all areas of the economy, many governments announced fiscal stimulus and economic bailout packages which included specific resources for the arts and cultural sectors. Equally, various charities and industry bodies raised funds to support their sector.

Arts and culture sector financial stimulus packages from individual countries included:

 Australia. petition of over 50 arts and culture organisations (including peak bodies from the music, dance, visual arts, museums, writers' and indigenous arts groups) requested a financial aid package " a value of 2% of the $111.7 billion [cultural and creative] industry" and requesting the Prime Minister "...issue a public statement recognising the value of our industry to all Australians" and noting that the industry had not yet recovered from the impact of the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season.[105]

 France. The minister for culture Franck Riester announced that employees of cultural institutions currently receiving unemployment benefits calculated over 12 months will see the confinement period withdrawn from the calculation [106]

 Germany. The minister for culture Monika Grütters declared that "artists are not only indispensable, but also vital, especially now."[107] The statement was made while announcing a €50 billion stimulus package for small business and freelancers – explicitly including the creative sectors.

 Sweden. The Swedish Minister of Culture Amanda Lind presented a 1 billion SEK support package for sports and culture, where 500 million SEK was earmarked for culture (not including government agencies like the Royal Dramatic Theatre and Kungliga Operan).[108]

 United Kingdom. The Film and TV Charity created an emergency relief fund in order to "provide emergency short-term relief to active workers and freelancers who have been directly affected by the closure of productions across the UK", with an initial donation of £1m from Netflix and by £500,000 from the BBC.[109][110] The Museums Association called upon the UK government to divert £120m that was intended for the Festival of Britain 2022 to bail out museums in financial distress.[111][25] Arts Council England announced £160 million would be made available for arts organisations, including £50 million for organisations it does not usually fund and £20 million for individual and freelance artists.[92]

 United States. A petition was begun by the American Alliance of Museums to request that the museum sector was included in any future economic stimulus from the United States government,[112] while the Metropolitan museum was more specific – requesting $4 billion for at-risk museums.[113]

In late March the United States federal government announced a $2 trillion economic stimulus package. It included: "$75 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $75 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities, which can pass on the money to institutions that need it. Another $50 million was designated to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which distributes funds to museums and libraries.[114] While a common argument in the USA against the cultural sector receiving stimulus funding was that "Arts groups may be 'nice,' but they’re far from 'necessary.'"[114]


Academic librarians in the United States made public statements on the applicability and importance of the role of the fair use copyright exception for "Emergency Remote Teaching & Research".[115] Cornell University Library made the advice explicit, noting in a new official library policy recommending, "...that faculty may scan course material in amounts that may exceed customary fair use limits under normal circumstances. Fair use provides flexibility to permit faculty scan broader amounts of course material than normal during these exigent circumstances." and noted that library staff were no longer allowed to work on-site and therefore not able to scan materials on behalf of teaching staff.[116]

the "National Emergency Library" of the Internet Archive on 24 March.[117]

The National Emergency Library of the Internet Archive – which suspended waitlists for access to digitised in-copyright books citing the justification of Fair Use during the pandemic – was criticised as "piracy masquerading as public service" and copyright infringement, especially by the Association of American Publishers and Authors Guild[118] as well as drawing public critique from several noted authors.[119] The Internet Archive defended its program by emphasising that: the collection consisted primarily of older in-copyright works without digital surrogates; it is a temporary program; authors can chose to opt-out; and the works are chosen for the educational not commercial value.[120][121]

The libraries of universities and of the National Research Council in Italy petitioned academic publishers to provide temporary open access to publications in order to medical staff, scientific researchers, and the general public access during the national emergency.[122]

LeVar Burton, host of Reading Rainbow, announced his desire to perform live-streamed readings of books for his podcast LeVar Reads but that copyright law was unclear as to whether this was allowed. Neil Gaiman replied by twitter giving permission to read any of his works.[123]

Various online training workshops were organised for cultural heritage to learn about relevant risks and exceptions to copyright when providing online services.[124] Equally, digital strategy workshops[125] and live Q&A sessions with experts were organised.[126]

New cultural works

With thorough and global disruption society to an unprecedented level, there is the expectation of many and diverse cultural works created which reference or are inspired by the pandemic and its effects. One gallery director said: "There will definitely be an explosion in new material."[127]


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