Planning for reopening

1 May 2020

Museums are an integral part of our social fabric and play a vital role in connecting our communities.

As places of learning, conservation, research, and interpretation, they hold our rich cultural collections in trust: these are the record of our past, the touchpoint for our present, and our legacy for future generations. They are uniquely placed to enable an active community, to contextualise society’s issues, to provide comfort and respite, and to inspire us. They are essential to a functioning society.

As we rebuild from this crisis, museums – like other integral services – are looking towards reopening in the phased approach per government recommendations, subject to an ongoing assessment. This is currently scheduled to take place during phase 4 in the Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business from the 20 July in the Republic of Ireland and during phases 2 and 3 in the Executive approach to decision-making in Northern Ireland.

While we are still consulting with IMA members as to guidelines on the reopening planning and processes, see the weekly virtual coffee break for members on this topic, we have received some guidelines from colleagues based across Europe that we share with you.

Please note these are unofficial translations (many thanks to IMA members Lucia Taeubler, Glucksman, and Claudia Köhler, Kerry County Museum, for their assistance) and have been edited. They are reflective of social distancing measures in each of the countries featured so please refer to the ROI or UK government guidelines.

  • Austria - protection measures

    (ICOM Austria guidelines, developed with the Federal Government. 23 April 2020)

    Covid-19 protection measurements in Austrian museums 

    Austrian museums are allowed to open mid-May if the governmental protection measurements are in place. These are recommendations for museums how to deal with re-opening after lockdown: 

    Staff protective measures

    * Opportunities for staff to disinfect (regularly)

    * Protection shields at the till (glass/acrylic glass) and more distance to visitors (if the space is more than 400m2)

    * Mouth and nose protection which needs to be changed or washed regularly

    * Utilities and hardware (computer, till, phone) need to be disinfected regularly

    * When in direct contact with visitors wearing gloves is recommended. They need to be disinfected or changed regularly.

    * When directly transferring money (after the till closes), objects, documents etc. between people wearing gloves is recommended

    * Distance of 1m to visitors 

    * Co-working with 1m distance to other staff but if possible shift change over the phone, lunch breaks not in groups, working in small groups and changing shifts - if possible always work in the same team!

    * Staff at risk should be protected and not be in direct contact with visitors

    * Don’t shake hands and use protocol for sneezing and coughing

    * First responders in the museum are in charge

    Visitor protective measures 

    * Communication with visitors should be contactless 

    * Reduction of visitor numbers to 1 person per 20m2 and providing visible information for visitors (at the entrance, before visitors enter and at the till)

    * Max. Number of visitors per room / information about it

    * If possible new guiding system for visitors (where do they walk in, where do they walk outside), clear information about the correct paths to take

    * Visitors need to be informed about hygiene and distance rules 

    * Visitors need to split in different rooms

    * No queues 

    * Visitors need to wear mouth and nose protection (except: children under 6)

    * Providing mouth and nose protection, if possible

    * min. Distance of 1m (unless visitors live in the same place)

    * Visitors with symptoms like high temperature, coughs, shortness of breath etc. are not allowed in

    * Visitors at risk could have their own times 

    * Providing hand disinfection at entrance

    * Providing soap and paper towels in bathrooms

    * More cleaning intervals for cleaning staff and museum staff: surfaces which are often touched (handrails, door knobs, seating areas, break areas, etc) need to be disinfected regularly, bathrooms need to be cleaned at least once a day, technical hardware like audio guides and hands-on stations need to be disinfected after every use

    * Please take care of surfaces - if historical materials and surfaces are in danger, limit access or close area

    * Please take care of hygiene rules in shop areas; visitors are not allowed to self service and touch objects/products

    * If there is a cafe in the museum, please make sure the rules for hospitality (different set of rules) are in place

    Guided tours:

    * Until June 30 guided tours are prohibited (indoors and outdoors)

    * It’s possible to offer mobile, staffed info-points (invigilator) who inform about specific exhibitions, objects etc. 

    * From July 1 these regulations will be relaxed

    * Until August 31 festivals/big events are prohibited


  • Belgium - proposal for reopening

    (Shared by ICOM Belgium, guidelines presented to government)

    1.      Museums propose that the reopening take place step by step in consultation with government guidelines, limiting and spreading the number of visitors and guaranteeing sufficient physical (and mental) space for visitors, without queues and avoiding congestion.

    2.      A phased approach to reopening should be put in place, focusing exclusively on individual visitors and members of the same household. It would be necessary that this be accompanied by expansion of ‘necessary travel’ guidelines and allow legitimate travel for museum visits.

    3.      Museums should guarantee strict control of a maximum number of visitors on site at any time. This number would depend on the size of the museum and their specific layout. In line with current social distancing guidelines they should look at a maximum of 1 person per 20 m². This would allow visitors to maintain a safe distance of 2 meters between visitors. In touchpoint areas this may include placing physical cues (such as those found in shops).

    4.      Museums should take necessary measures so that visitors cannot cross each other unless a safe distance can be guaranteed. This could include laid-out trails for visitors to follow around the exhibiiton and staggered waiting areas that avoids physical proximity as much as possible.

    5.      To ensure visitor access guidelines are kept under strict control, museums can deploy a wide range of strategies taking into account their own services and facilities. These can range from strict time slots via the museum's own online ticketing system, widely used 3rd party booking systems, or telephone reservations. Electronic (preferably contactless) payments should be encouraged. With the support of funders, the museum sector could look at the development of a collective booking and payment system.

    6.      Group visits, group events, museum cafes and commercial services such as room rental should only be started at a later stage, taking into account government guidelines. Museum shops and cafes should follow guidelines from the retail associations and food safety authorities.

    7.      Museums offer a unique advantage of being able to provide an essential ‘human factor’ and connectivity. Staff should not only ensure a sufficient distance between visitors and supervise compliance with existing regulations but also be extensively briefed on additional measures so that they can assist visitors as much as possible.

    8.      Museums should offer visitors and staff, at strategic locations within the museum, the necessary security and sanitary equipment. Open office layouts should be redesigned to adhere to social distancing regulations, canteen access should be staggered,

    9.      Sanitisers should be put in place so that exhibition tools (touchscreens, tablets, etc.) can be used safely. Handling of visitors personal items (such as cloakrooms) is not recommendable. Museums should communicate clearly about all these measures on their websites and communications. 

    10.   Museums will strictly follow all other current and future measures imposed by the government, such as, for example, a possible mandatory security check.

  • Germany - onsite measures

    German Museums Association guidelines for gradual reopening of museums

    Federal and state governments have agreed on initial easing of the shutdown in connection with the coronavirus. 

    The focus is on containing the coronavirus, so that only a step-by-step relaxation of the measures is planned. 

    Only few relaxations have been agreed for the cultural sector so far: Bookshops, libraries and archives can now open again in all federal states. Museums, memorial sites, exhibitions, theatres and concert halls must remain closed until further notice. Museums are already active and preparing for this. 

    The German Museum Association expects that in the coming weeks, step by step, other cultural institutions will also be able to reopen.  

    Museums can play a pioneering role in this gradual reopening of cultural institutions. Museums can thus draw on a wealth of experience in visitor management and, with the help of various measures, ensure that the opening is carried out in compliance with distance and hygiene rules. 

    We have compiled a list of possible measures for you, which we are continually expanding:

    • Limitation of visitor numbers
    • Smart visitor flow: e.g. social distancing for queues, separate entrance and exit, one-way-system visitor flow
    • Guided tours and educational events only with social distancing measures in place
    • Special dedicated opening hours for vulnerable audiences
    • Extended opening hours
    • Information on handwashing and social distancing outside entrance area and at reception
    • Information on social distancing rules in all exhibitions
    • Provision of hand sanitizer for visitors
    • Provision of masks for visitors (on request)
    • Increased frequency of cleaning schedule
    • Protection of museum staff: i.e. Protective Perspex at reception, gloves, masks, hand sanitizer
    • Staff who are vulnerable and at risk to be deployed in areas without public interaction
    • Special vigilance regarding hygiene when using audio-guides, hands-on exhibits, touch screens etc
    • Online tickets to be scanned by visitors rather than staff

    With the help of these responsible measures, the museums could reopen their doors and at the same time contribute to the containment of the coronavirus. This would once again guarantee the basic cultural supply of the population. 

    However, implementation of all these measures would mean an additional financial burden for the museums. Increased staffing requirements to implement distance and hygiene rules, lower income with reduced visitor numbers and the cancellation of events must be taken into account. 

    We therefore call on politicians and sponsors to support the museums financially in implementing the necessary measures and to make basic cultural services possible on a permanent basis. 

    We ask museums to network, to share experiences, ideas and tips and thus to prepare together for the opening of the museums. 

    With a gradual and carefully organised re-opening of the museums, we can set an important sign for a slow but safe return to normality. 

  • Poland - a structured and phased approach

    (Minister of Culture and National Heritage guidelines)

    Guidelines for museums, publics galleries and other cultural institutions operating in the field of cultural heritage policy and heritage protection in connection with the planned reopening of the state in light of the epidemic COVID-19

    The below guidelines lay out a phased approach to management of museums and other cultural institutions in preparation for their reopening. Access will be gradual and divided into three phases:

    Phase 1: The transition from remote to on site working.

    Tasks completed by said institutions should be assigned in a manner so as those positions that do not require the physical presence of the employees in the office, can be realised remotely for as long as possible.

    The course of action

    1. Employees (with a particular emphasis on front of house activities and public engagement) are to be provided with access to personal protective equipment (disinfectant liquids, masks, gloves);

    2. Organisation of work stations will take into account required spatial distance between employees;

    3. Schedules will be organised to include shift and rotational systems,  along with necessary staff in reserve (in the event of an epidemic risk increase);

    4. Restoration of accessibility to individual services, incl. security services: in the following phases, security service, while cooperating with other employees, will be held responsible for the monitoring and compliance of the sanitary regulations by the public (e.g. keeping distance, utilizing sanitizing liquids, masks); in preparation for this task, on-the-job training must be performed;

    5. Teams will be equipped with necessary products (disinfectant liquids, overalls etc.) and be responsible for the execution of all sanitary procedures (e.g. interior decontamination);

    6. Purchase of additional monitoring equipment (e.g. cameras);

    7. Servicing and the overhaul of ventilation and air conditioning equipment (if sanitary regulations allow for its use);

    8. Public places (cash registers, information points, as well as stores, small and large gastronomy points, as long as the sanitary regulations allow for their opening) will be equipped with added security measures (especially transparent partitions);

    9. Continuous amendment and visible display of the new regulations for visitors;

    10. Additional measures to be put in in place for employees from higher risk groups affected by the epidemic.

    Phase 2: Implementation of museum activities without direct contact with the audience

    To be carried out in accordance with overall guidelines, as long as maximum safety for both employees and visitors is maintained, the following activities shall to be continued.

    The course of action:

    1. Conduct basic operations over the internet;

    2. Conduct statutory activities of museums and institutions that do not require direct physical contact with the public;

    3. Only park and garden areas will be accessible to the public, which will act as a test of the correct following of procedures and their following through by employees. In addition - as an estimate of the financial risk associated with partial access will be carried out (increased service costs and potentially reduced earned income).

    Phase 3: Opening of museum and exhibitions

    The transition to this phase should take into account that some tasks do not require the physical presence of employees at the office, and will still be realised remotely.

    The transition to this phase requires that the following conditions be met:

    1. For a certain period of time, access to interiors will be the standard form of activity, in conjunction to virtual tours;

    2. Access to museum and exhibitions must take place without damage to the collections held (when making decisions about access, maintaining the sanitary requirements may interfere with the obligation to preserve the collections and thus must be considered: disinfectants used for decontamination are not chemically inert and have a corrosive effect);

    3. Real world visitation will be limited by:

    a) a cap on physical number of visitors,

    b) providing personal protective equipment for visitors (e.g. disinfectant liquids),

    c) restricted visiting hours,

    d) implementation of reservation systems,

    e) postponement of group tours, gradually reoffering them for various community groups, for example: day / hours of the visit for the elderly, health care workers, policemen,

    f) reorganization (development of special educational programmes for smaller groups, conducting outdoor activities) or temporary resignation from on site educational activities,

    g) changing of visit routes,

    h) deactivating multimedia and other devices activated by touch (e.g. audio-guides),

    i) suspension of the use of cloakrooms,

    j) postponed availability of on site commercial and educational spaces,

    k) limitation of events of larger groups of people (vernissages, closings, picnics, fairs, reviews, scientific conferences, etc.),

    4. Gradual return to various forms of social interactions will also be a period of ‘acclimatising’  audiences with the new conditions and regulations, sometimes testing new preferences and undertaking flexible changes to educational programmes (e.g. with the possibility of greater inclusion of outdoor activities). Hence the immense role of a properly selected external communication strategy.


  • UK - supports needed for reopening

    (Museums Association UK statement, 4 May) 

    What support is needed to facilitate reopening?

    As the coronavirus crisis develops, museums across the UK are beginning to consider how and when they will be able to reopen their doors to the public. 

    The decision to reopen any museum will be based on government and scientific advice, but it is increasingly clear that reopening will be a risky and difficult process for many museums, with a range of financial and operational considerations for directors, funders and policy-makers to take into account....

    Click here to continue reading this statement on the MA website. 

  • NMNI - Visitor experience reopening approach

    Thank you to Brona Moffett, Head of Experience and Enterprise Development at National Museums NI, for sharing this planning framework following the IMA members' session on Planning for Reopening on 6 May 2020.

    NMNI Visitor Experience Reopening Approach Covid 19 ( Pre Vaccine). May 2020


    1. Staff Training for Covid Precautionary Measures 

    • Administration Teams
    • Front of House
    • Gallery and Exhibit Staff
    • Stakeholders ( Trustees, Friends of Groups, NIPSA)


    2. Pre Arrival

    • Prebooking on Website
    • Site Capacity
    • Pricing
    • Pre visit experience message setting (staff training reassurance, max group size, parking, pricing, offer, F&B, retail, toilet facilities, Kitemark)


    3. Site Arrival

    • Public Transport ( site staff / security staff welcome and signage )
    • By Car ( car park SD capacity and markings)
    • By Coach ( coach parking SD capacity and markings)
    • On foot


    4. Welcome and Orientation

    • Specific section for each of the following groups: General Paying Visitors, Members, Education Groups, Travel Trade Groups, SIPs
    • Prebooking validation
    • Administration for non prebookers (capacity check, cash management, membership card validation)
    • Membership Sales
    • Explanation of New Offer on Site ( Freeflow, Guided, Duration of Visit, Audio Guides, Script Development with Curatorial)
    • Explanation of Expected New Visitor Behaviours ( 2m distance, family behaviour, group size, permission to touch chattels, permissions at the farm, dogs on leads)
    • Signage and supporting collateral designs


    5. Visitor Experience

    • UFM    Narrative and visual from freeflow, non linear to new offer at each touchpoint for the following groups: General Paying Visitors, Members, Education Groups, Travel Trade Groups, SIPs
    • UTM    Narrative and visual from freeflow, non linear to new offer at each touchpoint for the following groups: General Paying Visitors, Members, Education Groups, Travel Trade Groups, SIPs
    • UAFP  Narrative and visual from freeflow, non linear to new offer at each touchpoint for the following groups: General Paying Visitors, Members, Education Groups, Travel Trade Groups, SIPs
    • UM Narrative and visual from freeflow, non linear to new offer at each touchpoint for the following groups: General Paying Visitors, Members, Education Groups, Travel Trade Groups, SIPs


    6. Site Maps with Covid Precaution Infrastructure 

    • UFM ( FoH Staff Meeting Areas, Car Parks, Perspex Screens, Contactless Payment Installation, Hand Sanitiser Installations, Signage, PA System )
    • UTM ( FoH Staff Meeting Areas, Car Parks, Perspex Screens, Contactless Payment Installation, Hand Sanitiser Installations, Signage, PA System)
    • UAFP ( FoH Staff Meeting Areas, Car Parks, Perspex Screens, Contactless Payment Installation, Hand Sanitiser Installations, Signage, PA System )
    • UM ( FoH Staff Meeting Areas, Car Parks, Perspex Screens, Contactless Payment Installation, Hand Sanitiser Installations, Signage, PA System)


    7. Evaluation of Visitor Experience

    • Realtime systems for immediate evaluation


    8. Systems and Processes

    • Staffing Rotas
    • Multiskilled Working
    • Cashing up procedures
    • Membership Selling
    • Cleaning Protocols
    • Resetting of Budgets 2020/21


    9. Stakeholder Communication Plan

    • General reopening brief, ( All Staff, All Volunteers, Trustees, NIPSA, Department of Community, ALVA, AVEA, TNI, Tourism Alliance, NT, HRP, TBL, Beamish)
    • Site Specific reopening brief, (Staff Specific Staff, Site Volunteers, Trustees, NIPSA, Department of Community)
  • ICOM - Protecting the health of staff and visitors

    As lockdowns gradually come to an end in several regions and countries, museums have to revise and update their health security protocols to reopen properly. While national regulations vary depending on the specific evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are some basic measures that can be taken to protect the health of both visitors and staff.

    Preparing for the arrival of the public

    • Define a maximum number of visitors allowed into the museum and inform the public about it
    • Define a maximum number of visitors per exhibition room and inform the public (it is recommended to set a maximum number of people per square meters to allow a safety distance of 1.5 m between each visitor)
    • Determine average visit time to establish time slots
    • Consider a gradual reopening of exhibitions
    • As far as possible, set up a booking system (online, by phone and/or by e-mail). Set up an online ticketing system. Online tickets can be scanned by visitors themselves at the entrance to the museum
    • Consider extended opening hours
    • Consider opening hours dedicated to certain groups of public (e.g. > 65 years of age)
    • Deny access to persons showing symptoms of the disease
    • Notify the public of context-related restrictions on the institution’s website (if applicable) and before entering the museum

    Public access – adapting the flow of visitors

    • Avoid or manage lines at entrances and counters
    • Consider ground markings for lines to ensure that the recommended distance of 1.5 m is maintained
    • Ensuring distance between visitors and reception counters, possibly installing glass to protect staff and visitors
    • Close the cloakrooms requiring the presence of staff (lockers can remain available if they are disinfected regularly between uses) to avoid unnecessary handling and contact
    • Ensure that separate flows of entrances and exits are maintained and provide a one-way tour of the rooms (if possible)
    • Guided tours and educational offers can be provided if the safety distance between participants is respected. If this is the case, define specific time slots for group visits and restrict their size
    • The openings of common commercial areas (cafeteria, bookshop, shops) are subject to specific national regulations

    Public access – strengthening health measures

    • Install hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance of the museum and provide warning signs to encourage visitors to respect the health measures in force
    • Ensure that visitors have access to toilets (allowing them to wash their hands with soap and hot water and giving preference to disposable hygienic material in this respect) and adapt this access to the rules of social distancing in force (marking on the ground, etc.)
    • Ensure that devices such as audio guides, headphones and other similar equipment that require handling are systematically disinfected after each use
    • Disability-assisted facilities and exposed devices with control buttons for educational purposes should be cleaned frequently with disinfectants
    • Interior doors will remain open (if possible). Otherwise, they must be disinfected each time they are used

    Public access – restricting some access if necessary

    • Restricting access to rooms and facilities that cannot be fully cleaned or disinfected
    • Closing installations (e.g. contemporary art) that involve visitor interaction
    • Lifts must be reserved for persons with reduced mobility, ensuring that the distance of 1.5 m is respected between each user. The control buttons must be disinfected after each use
    • If the common areas do not allow the application of the rules of social distancing, an adjustment of timetables and traffic could be considered

    Reception and security staff

    • Security staff must be present at the reception desk and in the museum rooms to ensure not only that there is sufficient distance between the visitor and the works on display, but also to make sure there is sufficient distance between visitors themselves. If necessary, to guarantee the safety of the works and visitors, the teams can be supplemented by additional staff
    • Provide staff with adequate protective devices (cash register protection, masks, disinfectants), mandatory condition for opening to the public

    Cleaning and conservation measures

    • Increase cleaning intervals according to national regulations
    • All areas of the museum accessible to the public will be cleaned daily, as a minimum
    • To ensure the conservation of museum collections, see also the updated recommendations on the subject

    In the office

    • Consider sustainable adaptation of emergency plans
    • Extend work loans to minimize movement, handling, and transportation
    • The areas accessible to staff will be cleaned in accordance with national guidelines
    • Common equipment used by several staff members will need to be disinfected regularly. In the absence of disinfection standards, this equipment shall not be used
    • Staff will clean their workplace daily with alcohol-based wipes or paper towels, regardless of the cleaning service in place
    • Any employee whose activity does not require an on-site presence will continue to work from home and in accordance with national regulations

    Finally, it is recommended that museums that are not in a position to respond to these measures extend their temporary closings.

  • Theatre Forum - Reopening Arts Centres

    While not a museum focused document, this comprehensive publication by Theatre Forum contains some valuable operational checklists and tools, including template forms that may be of assistance:


Beyond logistics

Looking beyond the logistics of reopening, there are some interesting articles on the broader impact of Covid-19 and planning for the reopening museums, from market research (see ColleenDilenSchneider posts) to thought pieces such as this one by Sandro Debono from MUZA in Malta.