LONDON. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London houses one of the UK’s most eccentric treasures.
One room in the arts and crafts museum houses the Large Tableware Bed, a 10-foot-wide four-poster bed that was such a popular tourist attraction in 16th century England that William Shakespeare mentioned it in Twelfth Night. Nike sneakers are on display within walking distance.
But on several recent visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum, some of the eclectic exhibits have been closed. On Sunday September, a small sign at the entrance announced that British galleries were closed. There were also furniture exhibits. Like most of the ceramics collection.
There was no explanation on the sign, but a museum employee said that because the museum fired staff due to belt tightening after being locked out, galleries were often closed.
“Better to call ahead if you want to see something,” she said.
More than 18 months after the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK, its long-term implications for the country’s museums are becoming clear. Months of closures have hurt their finances, and as a result, many museums expect them to be closed for years to come.
The UK government pledged billions of dollars in financial support while art institutions were forced to close. However, for many establishments, this was not enough to fill the gap generated by lost exhibitions, gift shops and catering revenues. V&A lost nearly 53 million pounds, or about $ 73 million, in the year after the pandemic.
Since May, museums in England have been allowed to open without restrictions, and visitors have returned, although attendance in many does not even exceed half the pre-pandemic level.
“We are still seeing the fallout from the pandemic,” said Sharon Hill, director of the Association of Museums, a trade organization. “It’s not back to normal at all.”
Almost 4,700 employees have been laid off in the UK museum sector since the start of the pandemic, according to a study by the association. The Brontë Parsonage Museum, located in the house where the author’s sisters lived, has lost 12 employees over the past year. The Royal Collection Trust, which manages the Queen’s art collection, has lost 165 people, including the Queen’s Paintings Inspector, whose role dates back to 1625. Last year, massive job cuts in the Tate Museum’s retail and food service department led to street protests. Tate Modern.
But it is at the Victoria and Albert Museum that the lingering effects of the pandemic seem most evident.
Last August, Tristram Hunt, director of V&A, began developing a plan to save around £ 10 million, or about $ 13.7 million a year. He asked the museum departments to plan for a budget cut of up to 20 percent. He also suggested rebuilding the curatorial and research departments of the museum so that they were no longer organized by materials such as glass or metal. Instead, they should be organized by historical era.
When it became known in February, the plan did not go well. A union representing some of the museum staff has launched an online petition against planned changes at the National Library of Art located at V&A; A French organization representing performing arts museums has launched another. Scholars have denounced these proposals in newspaper essays and in fictional publications. Christina J. Faraday, an art historian, wrote in the Daily Telegraph that these plans hit the very core of the museum.
“Tristram Hunt is in danger of becoming the director who found the Victoria and Albert marble and left it brick,” she said.
Hunt abandoned the plan a few weeks later. Through a spokesperson, he turned down several interview requests for this article, but he told The Daily Telegraph in August that he “sees the strength of their arguments.” The museum still slashed its departments’ budget by 10-12 percent. and continues to limit the number of days it is open to five days a week, up from seven before the pandemic.
Even with these cuts, the museum often lacks staff to open all of its galleries. Of the 166 assistants who guarded the collection until March 2020, only 93 are now left. Stephen Warwick, a Public and Commercial Services Union spokesman who represents many of the museum’s staff, said the assistants now have to patrol the double floor space and find it difficult to keep visitors from “interfering into objects “.
Reducing the number of other Victoria and Albert departments, such as education and environmental groups, has the potential to have longer-term implications, according to three former employees.
Tessa Murdoch, a former curator of sculpture, metal, ceramics and glass at the museum, said the loss of expertise from curatorial teams could harm the labeling quality of the museum’s exhibits and its ability to process loans. Eric Turner, a former curator of metalwork, said museum curators and interlocutors will be forced to produce more during the same opening hours.
In an email to The New York Times, Phoebe Moore, a spokesperson for Victoria and Albert, stated that “no area” of the museum’s curatorial work is at risk. “We do not expect any consequences for the care of the collections,” she said, adding that some galleries were closed due to “unexpected levels of illness and absence, not as a result of restructuring.”
“We hope to be back to normal very soon,” Moore added.
Several other major UK museums, including the Tate, have said they will now host fewer temporary exhibitions each year to lower costs and give visitors more time to view the exhibitions. Moore said V&A is still working out its post-pandemic exhibition plan, but its 2022 runway shows, which include a major African fashion show, will proceed as originally planned.
Several visitors at the museum said last Sunday that they strongly believe that all Victoria and Albert galleries should remain open. “I feel like England is out of the pandemic,” said 17-year-old Sofia Viola.
But many others have said that V&A is doing its best. Farhat Khan, 58, who was driving through the museum with her grandson, said that while she missed some of the objects, the gallery’s closure did not bother her. “Of course it was annoying,” she said, “but we have to support everyone.”
43-year-old Adam Mellor, standing in front of the Grand Lodge of Cookware with his family, expressed a similar opinion. “I would rather come here and open the museum halfway than close it,” he said just before bumping into a blocked barrier preventing him from browsing the other galleries above.
“Oh, what a pity,” he said. “It’s really cool there,” he added with a sigh, leading his children in the opposite direction.