Which museums re-opened after lockdown restrictions were lifted in spring 2021, and did it vary by governance? In this blog we present our findings about the three largest groups of museums in our dataset: those run by local authorities, independents run on a not-for-profit basis, and private museums.
As seen in the chart below, museum websites increasingly mentioned that they were open between March and November 2021. That trend reflects the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. In April 2021, outdoor attractions began to reopen and museums in Scotland were able to reopen towards the end of the month. Museums in the rest of the UK were able to reopen in May 2021.
Local authority museum websites (orange line) show the largest increase (from 44% in March 2021 to 56% in November 2021), which suggests that they are more likely to have reopened than the other two groups. The increase can be seen as early as April, which may reflect websites updating in anticipation of full reopening in May 2021. The change in April may also reflect the reopening of outdoor facilities across the UK that month, prior to full reopening in May. Independent not for profit museum websites (green line) show a smaller change (from 41%, to 49% by August 2021), and private museums (blue line) changed by a similar amount (from 36%, to 45% by November 2021).
Over the same period, museum websites decreasingly mentioned that they were closed.
The chart above shows the percentage of websites mentioning current closure between March and November 2021. The biggest drop is for local authority museums (from 77%, to 59% by August 2021), which again suggests that they are more likely to have reopened. That decline was slightly less on websites of independent not for profit museums (from 65% to 49% by September 2021). Private museums show the smallest change (from 49% to 44% by September 2021). This could suggest that private museums are least likely of the three groups to have reopened, but the chart of reopening above suggests that they were similar in this respect to not-for-profits.
That finding is borne out by manually checking samples of the text we found on museum websites. In April 2021 – before lockdown was lifted – we found that 231 local authority museums explicitly stated that they were closed due to Covid, compared to 318 independent not for profit museums and 45 private museums.
By September 2021, four months after restrictions had been relaxed, we found that just 38 local authority museum websites still stated they were closed due to the pandemic, a reduction of 84% from April. By comparison, 72 not for profit independent museums still stated this, a smaller reduction of 77%. For private museums, 10 websites still stated they were closed due to the pandemic, a reduction of 78%. So this analysis also suggests that local authority museums were more likely to have reopened, while private museums and not-for-profits show lower rates of reopening.
These figures must be seen as approximate, given that not all museum websites are updated regularly and our search tools are far from perfect. But both types of analysis suggest that local authority museums were more likely to reopen after lockdown than the largest groups of independent museums.