For five and a half months of closed doors, museums have searched for and, depending on the possibilities, found solutions to overcome downtime. Those museums with fewer resources focused on sorting the stock. Those who were able, created digital content and expositions outside.
The museums under the responsibility of the State, which also include Rundāles Palace, Turaida Museums Reserve and the Latvian National Museum of Art, have been able to earn only 4% of the planned income this year due to downtime. Revenue lost by the Latvian National Museum of Art amounts to €630 thousand. The head of the museum, Māra Lāce, hopes that the government will cover this amount: “We hope so very much, because otherwise we can't pay for heating, electricity and security.”
The Ministry of Culture has requested the government to allocate €3.46 million to support public museums.
Zane Grīnvalde, Chair of the Board of the Association of Museums, acknowledges that downtime has been difficult for all museums, but most for those whose own revenue plays the crucial role: “Thank god, but no museum is closed and no [employee] is fired as far as I know.”
One of the museums who publicly expressed their disapproval of staying so long behind closed doors was the Daugavpils Mark Rothko Center. Its chief executive, Māris Čakča, estimates that this year's unearned revenue amounts to EUR 60 thousand: “We have found the means to cover this amount by the end of the summer, but it is not that we have an unmeasurable bucket from which we can get so much. We cannot take risks and reallocate the money planned for the content to wages. The only salvation is summer because until the end of April we could only survive as we had a very good summer last year, when we earned a lot with our job fairly, with the content we offered to our visitors."
For museums to resume work, the requirements are tougher than before. The area of 25 m2 must now be calculated for each visitor as well as providing a one-way traffic. It's a challenge for the small memorial apartments, where there are often no two exits. Zane Grīnvalde admits that museums have been so desperate to work that they will be delighted to take on one visitor.
Deputy State Secretary of the Ministry of Culture Uldis Zariņš said that museums are in some ways privileged because, as in libraries and archives, individual visits are possible to any person.
"As from 15 June, when amendments to the provision of services to vaccinated persons or those who have had Covid-19 come into force, museums will also be able to provide group services, such as tours or museum teaching activities. This will only apply to persons who have been vaccinated or overcome Covid," said Zariņš.
The future work of museums is hampered by the unpredictability of the situation. No one can tell how long they will be available to visitors. Consequently, there is no clarity on how to plan future exhibitions.
The head of the Rothko Center, Māris Čakča, admits that this year's experience has taught that one can't enter into contracts that neither side will be able to execute: "But we have to plan our lives forward anyway, because there is not much art in refusing valuable exhibition projects just because we don't know if two years later, or three years later, we'll be able to do it."