Many of the museums in the Netherlands are preparing to re-open on 1st June. Many have started offering advanced ticket-booking already. But what will it be like, visiting museums then?

The Dutch Museums Association was asked by the government to draw up a COVID19 protocol. Because of its experience in handling large crowds, the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum was asked to cooperate.

But as any regular Rijksmuseum visitor knows: this is a sprawling building with so many rooms, that even on a crowded day it is still possible to find empty rooms nobody is much interested in.

What about museums located in small period buildings? Are COVID19 rules and a protocol based on a sprawling museum offering workable solutions for smaller, underfunded museums?

It is clear that museums and organizations with much exhibition space have no problem ensuring social distancing is possible. Organizations which have no permanent collection but rely on changing exhibitions in a large space are more flexible.

They can simply change the way a large space is used. They can arrange exhibitions in a way ensuring visitors move through it ensuring social distancing is guaranteed at all times.

Larger museums like the Rijksmuseum, have no problem offering visitors a clear entrance and exit. Visitors should check museum websites to see which specific rules regarding use of lockers, face masks, audio tours and other points apply.

Most museums will introduce one-way ‘traffic’. Crowd control will be more stringent. Some museums stated they will use tape to create 1.5m ‘squares’, where a person or family can stand to view exhibited art. All museums use stickers and posters to remind visitors of the 1.5m social distancing rule.

Problems for smaller museums are elevators, staircases, corridors and other points where streams of coming and going visitors may pass each other. Some may opt to close elevators. Others will experiment with using perspex plates.

Quite a few smaller museums pointed out, the Museums Association’s protocol resembles a one-suits-all plan. “It is like applying a protocol designed for IKEA to your local grocer’s”, remarked one museum director.

However, the condition for reopening dictates museums adhere to the protocol. So rules and measures which can be introduced without a problem in a Rijksmuseum or van Gogh museum also apply to say a 16th century upstairs-downstairs hovel. The Museum Association told journalists, it expects its over 400 members to follow its imposed protocol.

Though most museums already prohibited taking photos well before COVID19, many smaller museums relied on visitors taking photos and selfies. It is free promotion. Now there will be a ban on visitors taking photos, selfies, videos and share on social media.

Other directors regret COVID19 measures mean people are prevented from popping into a museum or exhibition spontaneously. Having to book tickets is an extra hurdle. Especially for people who do not visit museums often. Also, when a specific day and/or time-slot is sold out: will potential visitors bother to book tickets for another day and time?

Though plenty museums are grumbling about the new protocol and measures, the pressure to re-open is too great. A survey among the over 400 members of the Museum Association made clear, one in four Dutch museums is expecting to land into financial difficulties before this year ends.

The number of museums facing closure is likely higher, for not all Dutch museums are members of the Museum Association, nor do all smaller museums receive financial support from the association, government, local governments.    Kate   23rd May 2020