Europe’s Museums Are Open, but the Public Isn’t Coming Due to Pandemic

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AMSTERDAM — Visitors to the Rijksmuseum’s vast, vaulted galleries of Dutch old master paintings can feel as though they’ve got the whole place to themselves these days. Before the pandemic, around 10,000 people used to crowd in each day. Now, it’s about 800.

In theory, even with strict social distancing guidelines — visitors must book ahead, wear a mask, follow a set path and stay at least six feet apart — the Dutch national museum could accommodate as many as 2,500 people a day. But the public isn’t exactly jostling for those limited tickets.

Across town, the Hermitage Amsterdam museum has extended an exhibition of imperial jewels from the Russian state collection that was attracting 1,100 visitors a day last year. Now, the museum has limited daily ticket sales to 600, though it’s only selling about half.

As cultural institutions reopen across the United States, with new coronavirus protocols in place, many have been looking to Europe, where many museums have been open since May, for a preview of how the public might respond to the invitation to return. So far, there’s little reason to be optimistic.

Almost all European museums are suffering from visitor losses, but their ability to cope depends almost entirely on how they are funded. Institutions supported by government funding are able to weather the storm with a little belt-tightening, while those that depend on ticket sales are facing tougher choices. Many are laying off employees and restructuring their business models.

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Visitor information from across Europe tells a fairly consistent story: Museums that have reopened have about a third of the visitors they had this time last year. The Louvre in Paris reports about 4,500 to 5,000 visitors a day, compared with about 15,000 a year ago. The State Museums of Berlin, a group of 18 museums in the German capital, reports about 30 percent of its usual attendance.

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