Closed museums, shut out from public debate

Closed museums, shut out from public debate

It’s not just the country’s retail sector that has shut down because of the coronavirus outbreak, but also the museums. However, one cannot help but notice the relative indifference shown by the political class, the media and the public about the latter.

The pandemic has taught us many things. One thing concerns the interdependence between all manifestations of life, the multiple aspects of society and their connection with the many aspects of the economy. Put differently, the lingering health crisis has exposed the sequence of seemingly unrelated functions. A larger percentage of the population has perhaps realized that the well-being of the individual and of the family is sensitive enough to be influenced by a wide range of parameters.

In a deeply contradictory society such as Greece, where the champions of a strictly materialist understanding of life coexist with those embracing a purely irrational perception of life (it’s like they live in a parallel universe), only a small minority seems to pay attention to the reality of closed museums.

That chunk of society working in the culture sector, particularly those who do not depend on state aid for their survival, is completely absent from the public debate. Is it seen as a luxury to discuss the impact that the prolonged closure of museums and cultural institutions has on Greek society and economy? Or is it that very few people realize what it means to suspend the operation of institutions such as the Benaki Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the City of Athens, the Museum of Cycladic Art, or the Goulandris Museum?

Jobs with an uncertain future, exhibitions which have been indefinitely postponed, ideas and culture agencies that have withdrawn from the public sphere. The value of culture amid a pandemic has been canceled. And, yet, the opposite should be the case.

Unfortunately, very few politicians are capable of grasping the contribution of a museum – perhaps because holding a discussion on the future of museums at the same time as a health crisis seems a concept too alien, exotic and marginal to them.

And while no one underestimates other professional groups – each is, after all, useful and necessary in its own way – it’s hard to explain why the nail salons grab the headlines whereas a discussion on the lockdown of museums is denounced as premature and elitist.

Regrettably, the damage suffered by the museums, institutions which are linked to the fundamental pillars of education and tourism, will soon become evident on both the social and the financial level. Developments will primarily expose the poverty of political discourse and the priorities set by our society.

Political discourse is painfully predictable and poor, but the conditions exist for a resetting of priorities.

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