Museum and gallery leaders in England have expressed anger, disappointment and bafflement at why commercial art galleries – which count as non-essential shops – can open five weeks before them.
“It is just nuts,” said Rebecca Salter, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts which, like other public galleries, has been told it can reopen no sooner than 17 May. Shops, meanwhile, can open on 12 April.
“It just makes no sense. On the 12 April all the retail will open on Piccadilly and our gates will stay shut, I don’t get the logic of it frankly. It just doesn’t feel joined up to me … I’m angry.
“If we do genuinely worry about the mental state of this nation having been locked away then I would like an explanation into why the government feels retail therapy will make people feel better but ‘art’ therapy, coming to see pictures, can wait another five weeks.”
(March 8, 2021) Step 1, part 1
All pupils and college students return fully. People can meet one other person outside, not just for exercise. Care home residents can receive one regular, named visitor. The “stay at home” order will otherwise stay in place.
(March 29, 2021) Step 1, part 2
Outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens. Outdoor sport for children and adults will be allowed. The official stay at home order will end, but people will be encouraged to stay local. People will still be asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.
(April 12, 2021) Step 2
The official outline plan states that the next steps will rely on data, and the dates given mean "no earlier than". In step two, there will be a reopening of non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and public buildings such as libraries and museums. Most outdoor venues can open, including pubs and restaurants but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.
Also reopening will be settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules will apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing. Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open but again people can only go alone or with their own household. Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities, but only for one household. Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.
(May 17, 2021) Step 3
Again with the caveat "no earlier than 17 May", depending on data, vaccination levels and current transmission rates.
Step 3 entails that most mixing rules are lifted outdoors, with a limit of 30 people meeting in parks or gardens. Indoor mixing will be allowed, up to six people or, if it is more people, two households. Indoor venues such as the inside of pubs and restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, play centres, cinemas and group exercise classes will reopen. The new indoor and outdoor mixing limits will remain for pubs and other hospitality venues.
For sport, indoor venues can have up to 1,000 spectators or half capacity, whichever is lower; outdoors the limit will be 4,000 people or half capacity, whichever is lower. Very large outdoor seated venues, such as big football stadiums, where crowds can be spread out, will have a limit of 10,000 people, or a quarter full, whichever is fewer. Weddings will be allowed a limit of 30 people, with other events such as christenings and barmitzvahs also permitted.
This will be the earliest date at which international holidays could resume, subject to a separate review.
(June 21, 2021) Step 4
No earlier than 21 June, all legal limits will be removed on mixing, and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, will reopen. Large events can take place.
Peter Walker Political correspondent
Salter said the RA and other galleries were safe spaces with rigorous procedures in place. “I know that lots of people caught Covid shopping on Oxford Street before Christmas.”
Axel Ruger, the secretary and chief executive of the RA, welcomed the roadmap out of lockdown. “However, it is incredibly frustrating that museums and galleries can only reopen from 17 May whilst gyms, hairdressers and the non-essential retail sector are able to open from 12 April.”
The frustration was echoed by the Museums Association. Sharon Heal, its director, said there was no logic to the delay and called for a rethink.
“Museums and their audiences are losing out because the government has classified museums as ‘indoor entertainment venues’ alongside cinemas and theatres. Yet in terms of implementing social distancing, they have far more in common with libraries, public buildings and community centres, which will all open on 12 April.”
Thomas Marks, the editor of Apollo magazine, said it made no sense, writing that it “looks like a clear expression of what many who work in the arts have come to suspect of this government: that it sees culture as an afterthought, something easily left on the shelf”.
Many gallery bosses said their annoyance was softened by at least having a date. “My reaction was first of all relief,” said Iwona Blazwick, the director of Whitechapel gallery in London. “But also disappointment that we can’t open on 12 April. Libraries and community centres can – we are a community centre, we have a library … that was a little disappointing but at least we have clarity and a direction of travel and we are marching towards it. I’m feeling quite optimistic.”
The Whitechapel will reopen with its delayed Eileen Agar show. “I’m so thrilled because her work is the perfect spiritual balm for our post-pandemic convalescence.”
The Hepworth Wakefield gallery in West Yorkshire is planning to reopen on 21 May, 10 years to the day since it first opened, with a major show devoted to the artist it is named after, Barbara Hepworth
“We are just so excited to think that we can confidently get the doors back open again,” said director Simon Wallis. “The senior management team meeting I had this morning was packed with just so much more energy than it’s had in a long time.”
A government spokesperson said: “We will seek to reopen museums and galleries at step three which is in line with other indoor entertainment and leisure venues as part of our approach to ease restrictions without putting pressure on the NHS and avoiding a further lockdown.
“We established the £1.57bn culture recovery fund to support our cultural organisations and so far more than £1bn has been allocated to thousands of organisations, including museums and galleries, in addition to other support measures like the furlough scheme.”