UN agency warns pandemic could kill 1 in 8 museums worldwide

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Visitors wearing a face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 admire statues in the Rome Capitoline Museums, including the second century A.D. Roman marble statue "Cupid and Psyche", at right, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. In Italy, museums were allowed to reopen this week for the first time since early March, but few were able to receive visitors immediately as management continued working to implement social distancing and hygiene measures, as well as reservation systems to stagger visits to museums in the onetime epicenter of the European pandemic. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

BRUSSELS – Museums are starting to reopen in some countries as governments ease coronavirus restrictions, but experts warn one in eight worldwide could face permanent closure due to the pandemic.

Studies by UNESCO and the International Council of Museums show 90% of the planet's museums, some 85,000 institutions, have had to shut at least temporarily.

“It is alarming data that we are giving,” Ernesto Ottone, Assistant Director General for Culture at UNESCO said in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday.

He said the problem cuts across the board, affecting museums big and small, new and established, featuring art or science.

Museums that indicated they might well not reopen, he said, “have been closed for months and they have no revenues. And they don’t know how they’re going to get their revenues.”

And once they do reopen, Ottone said, “they (won’t) have the capacity to update their infrastructure" to conform with social distancing and other pandemic precautions.

Some costly blockbuster shows have suffered heavy damage this spring. A once-in-a-lifetime exhibit bringing together fragile paintings by Flemish master Jan van Eyck had barely opened in Ghent, Belgium, when it was abruptly canceled. It won't be resumed, as many of the works were on loan and had to be returned.

In Rome, a similar supershow on Renaissance artist Raphael had to close after just three days, but was able to hold on to all 120 works and will now reopen June 2 through Aug. 30.