Vaccination passports and museums | Apollo Review
When Italy first introduced the requirement for a Covid-19 pass to enter public spaces in early August, the controversial decree led a museum director in Naples to resign. Fabrizio Masucci, director of the Museo Cappella Sansevero, published an open letter declaring that “museums are by their very vocation places of inclusion, and that equal access to art and culture [is] a right for all”. He also argued that given the security measures already in place, the introduction of these “green passes” was “not linked to epidemiological assessments” of the risk, but simply a means of advancing the campaign of government vaccination.
Although extreme, Masucci’s reaction echoed protests across the country as well as those in France, which had introduced the pass for venues with more than 50 people on July 21. In Italy, restless protesters have at times turned violent – in one incident on August 30, a journalist was punched repeatedly in the face – while in France protests have drawn an unusually high turnout during the months of summer, week after week. Yet, in terms of progress in controlling the pandemic, the European countries where the Covid-19 passes have been deployed seem to be enjoying their effects. In France, “health passes” have been credited with improving the previously slow vaccination rate and increasing the number of people getting regular Covid tests. The daily case rate has more than halved from the 21,000 new cases recorded on July 21.
There are several options for getting a pass. In France, holders must either be fully vaccinated, have a certificate proving recovery from Covid-19 within the last six months or a negative PCR or antigen test within the last 72 hours. In Italy, the requirements are similar, although the negative result must date from the last 48 hours and the pass is issued after a single vaccination. Meanwhile in the United States, in the absence of a federal mandate, New York museums have been included in the city’s “Key to NYC” program, which requires proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, gymnasiums and places of entertainment. The pass can be acquired after a single dose.
‘The choice [to comply] is easy for any museum director to do,” says Sophie Lévy, director of the Nantes art museum, who was more or less willing to accept any policy that meant the museum could reopen. “It’s been horrible, a terrible negation of what we’re trying to do,” she says of the forced closures last winter. Apart from a week of initial disruption, when the museum’s QR code scanning system failed to recognize foreign certificates, she describes the transition as a smooth one. Since the extension of the obligation in France to long-distance transport and catering on August 9, possession of the pass has become as natural as possession of an identity document. “It came into common use – just as the mask quickly became normal,” says Lévy.
Arturo Galansino, director of the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, also found audiences receptive. He had feared the museum would lose visitors after the law came into effect, but noted no change in attendance and was delighted to welcome 55,000 visitors over three months to the summer exhibition of the museum, dedicated to American art on loan from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. . Earlier in the year, the museum unveiled a large-scale outdoor installation, The injury, by French street artist JR. The artwork, which creates the illusion of a massive tear in the building’s facade, was touted as a symbol of the effects of the pandemic on museums while offering a sort of glimpse inside the closed building. “We were one of the main voices in Italy talking about this distance between the public and culture,” says Galansino, “so we are really happy that this distance has been reduced and that we can once again be in touch with the art”.
Neither museum director sees any evidence that the public was put off by the passes. “When we reopened after the first confinement [lockdown] in 2020, people were very cautious and attendance was low,” says Lévy. “When we reopened in 2021, everyone’s desire to get back to normal life was then much stronger than any fear.” If anything she suggests, it is perhaps the continued need to pre-book tours that is most off-putting to the public. “Having to pre-book the day and time to visit completely changes the way people choose to visit a museum,” she says.
After reaching a 75% threshold for fully vaccinated over-12s, Denmark, which rolled out its ‘Coronapas’ in April, scrapped the requirement for a pass even for nightclubs and events large scope. Lévy fully supports the French government’s campaign for more vaccinations, which can only have long-term benefits for museums. “The goal of the cultural sector is to stay open and offer everything it has to the public,” she says. “Boundaries are much easier to bear and adapt to than just being closed. It was truly a nightmare.