Can you explain (seriously) why malls open and museums don't?

Why do museums continue to remain stubbornly closed despite many activities reopening? Let's try four hypotheses.

What has happened to culture at this stage of the Covid pandemic? It was not mentioned in the council president’s last press conference, it does not even receive simple words of comfort from Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, it was clubbed in the Recovery Plan (in a matter of months we went from a hypothetical 7 billion plan to an allocation of 3.1, or 1.6 percent of the total, a figure that makes culture the least funded sector in the draft), it fails to enter the public debate or gain media space. And it is unacceptable that culture is not discussed, if only to think about the reopening of museums, which continue to remain stubbornly and obtusely closed without anyone having yet provided good reasons.

We have, after all, the right to be treated as knowledgeable and informed citizens, and not as subjects who must receive impositions.Admittedly, it will be difficult to obtain information as to why the closures continue, given that while many activities are reopening, the total culture lockout no longer appears to be supported by reasons related to the trend of contagions. However, we can ask for an account of this, and at the same time put forward some hypotheses as to why cultural venues are still closed.

The first reason is the least plausible: museums still closed to curb mobility or limit social interactions. It may perhaps be true for major tourist attractions, such as the Uffizi or Pompeii (although up to a point: tourism has been practically zeroed out), it may certainly be true for holidays, but those accustomed to frequenting small museums know that the vast majority of institutions have only a few visitors a day, even during normal periods, and would therefore be able to guarantee all the safety conditions so that no one comes into contact with anyone else.

Above all, it could apply with the curve of contagions going up: now that the first concessions are beginning to be issued, it is absolutely incomprehensible why, in an area where one can have an aperitif by eighteen o’clock or stand in a queue waiting toenter a shopping mall with dozens or hundreds of other people, one cannot enter a museum where, especially at this time of almost no tourist travel, one will have a good chance of being alone for the duration of the visit. It is also unclear why no distinction was made between “large” and “small” museums, however valuable such distinctions may be without taking into consideration the composition of visitor flows, but it is nonetheless a fact that the Technical-Scientific Committee has forwarded, to this effect, indications on the distinction of types of institutions, which have, however, been totally disregarded at this stage. This is not, of course, a question of underestimating the risk or disrespecting the disease or its consequences: it is, quite simply, a question of understanding the reasons for the government’s choices. But even assuming that these choices are due to reasons of prudence due to the epidemiological picture, why then not schedule the reopenings, why this disinterest and silence on culture?

So we come to the second hypothesis: problems of sustainability or savings. On closer inspection, public museum employees still receive their salaries whether the museum remains open or closes (so in this case the problem does not exist), for private museum employees hired on a permanent basis there is the layoff fund (so the state, in this case, does not save money with closures), and finally for precarious and less protected workers there is, unfortunately, suspension or termination of the contract. It should be noted, however, that in certain contexts, where there is a higher attendance of local visitors, private museums would like to keep their doors open. On the other hand, private individuals who hold the concessions for the external services of museums that attract large tourist flows would be disadvantaged: could it be that everything was kept closed so as not to touch the intricate and debated point of outsourcing?

Third reason: do the rumors that the all-out closures are due to possible pressure from civil service union groups have any basis in fact? And if they were well-founded, is it for that reason that no distinction has been made between public and private museums, perhaps so as not to discriminate between public and private employees?

Turning instead to the fourth hypothesis: is it possible that this total neglect should be traced to internal political clashes within the majority? Those who read will recall that, on the occasion of the November 3 dpcm, a journalistic hypothesis circulated that the closure of museums had arisen as a result of a clash between Franceschini, the most intransigent proponent of the government’s rigorist line, and the sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora, with the former having to close museums in order to obtain from the other the closure of gyms. It is a rumor that has never been denied: let it never be the case, then, that the closure of culture to the bitter end, and the very serious thrashing that the sector received in the Recovery Plan draft, are symptoms of a clash (of course broader and more serious than the squabble between the two ministers last November) that is taking place within the majority, even if at the moment it is impossible to find a name to which to attribute the initiation of the eventual rift. The signs, however, would be there: Conte not mentioning culture by mortifying it, the allocations in the Recovery Plan draft halved compared to what was envisaged in the summer, the participation of Minister Franceschini in the presentation of the constituting Museum of the Italian Language alongside the mayor of Florence, Dario Nardella, who has always been close to Matteo Renzi before his exit from the Democratic Party (and Renzi in these hours is not really tender toward the Conte government).

Whatever the reasons for the continuing closures, however, the scheduling of reopenings is now imperative. If you do not want to do as in Spain, where museums continued to keep their doors open even in the second wave on the basis of the epidemiological situation of individual territories (so museums opened where the risk was lower), at least follow the example of France: there, very specific conditions have been set for the end of the culture confinement , and it has been planned to reopen the branch when the number of daily cases falls below five thousand and when the occupancy of intensive care units is below the three thousand threshold. We are far from these numbers, but it is still time to start comforting, discussing and planning, the future of a sector that is indispensable to the fate of our country depends on it.

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