100 French Museum Leaders Call on Authorities to Allow Them to Reopen, Claiming They’re ‘Necessary for Mental Well-Being’

The projected reopening date for museums has now been moved three times. 

Palais de Tokyo, Paris, courtesy of the Palais de Tokyo.

Nearly 100 French museum directors and curators have shared an open letter urging the culture minister to reopen the country’s arts institutions, which have been locked down since late October.

Addressed to culture minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, the letter argues that with the safety protocols instituted over the past 10 months, museums now represent a low contamination risk and will in fact help to combat another public health risk: the “heavy psychological and social consequences” of confinement. 

The missive was written in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s January 29 announcement that museums in France will remain closed for the foreseeable future, even though he’s chosen not to impose a third national lockdown.

“After hearing the latest government announcements, we want to make our voice heard,” the letter reads. “We ask to be able to fully play our role of unifying places, conveying what has meaning, and to reopen the doors of our institutions as widely and as soon as possible.”

“For an hour, for a day, for a week, or for a month, let us partially open our doors,” the document implores.

Among the first wave of signatories were Quentin Bajac, director of Paris’s Jeu de Paume; Isabelle Bertolotti, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Lyon; Emma Lavigne, president of the Palais de Tokyo; and Chiara Parisi, director of the Center Pompidou-Metz. Now, more than 2,300 additional signatories have added their names to the letter since the Palais de Tokyo published it through the platform change.org.

For museum leaders, Macron’s recent announcement represents the third time a projected date for reopening has been postponed or moved since going into lockdown for a second time last fall. Mid-December was the first targeted reopening date, before being moved to January 7, and then again to the end of the month. Now, it seems, the timeline for cultural institutions to resume business remains a guessing game.

The French Ministry of Culture did not respond to a request for comment.

“At a time when many cultural institutions are considering the creation of spaces dedicated to well-being through art and artistic mediation,” reads the letter, “we wish to be able to take care of visitors now, because it seems essential to us that places of culture can once again offer a sensitive experience, necessary for mental well-being to face this crisis.”

The letter concludes: “Art, like health, helps heal the human soul.”

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