As museum directors across France implore authorities to allow them to reopen their institutions, one mayor in the country has taken matters into his own hands. Louis Aliot, the right-wing mayor of Perpignan, a city in the south of France, will let four museums begin welcoming visitors once more, effectively disobeying countrywide Covid-19 safety guidelines that are keeping museums throughout the country shuttered.
“There is a virus, we have it for a long time, one must live with it,” Aliot said in a press conference on Tuesday. “The variants, there will be more of them; the virus, there will be more of it. There are treatments, there is the vaccine, there are all the precautions one needs to take, let’s get used to it.”
The French outlet Le Monde reported that the Musée Rigaud, a museum devoted to Hyacinthe Rigaud, the 17th-century painter who was born in Perpignan and is best known for his portrait of Louis XIV, was among those to start allowing visitors again.
The reopenings are a sign that tensions over the Covid restrictions being placed on museums in France are reaching a breaking point. They come just days after a group of French museum directors from across France banded together to sign a petition demanding that Roselyne Bachelot, the French minister of culture, let them reopen.
Bachelot has previously said that museums will be prioritized for reopening when the caseload in France subsides. Officials decided not to extend the national lockdown in December, though bars, restaurants, museums, and more remain shuttered for now. Some scientists have forecast a need for a third lockdown soon, claiming that France has not yet fully recovered from the most recent wave of Covid cases.
“We wish to be able to take care of visitors now,” the petition reads. “Art, like health, helps to heal the human soul.” Among those who signed the letter are Quentin Bajac, director of the Jeu de Paume in Paris; Nicolas Bourriaud, director general of Montpellier Contemporary; Maja Hoffmann, founder of the Luma Foundation in Arles; Emma Lavigne, director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris; and Chiara Parisi, director of the Centre Pompidou-Metz.
A similar sentiment was voiced by museum directors in Switzerland in an open letter. Directors of the Museum Tinguely, the Fondation Beyeler, the Kunstmuseum Basel, and other institutions signed a missive, which read, “If physical access is limited or blocked, education and culture become fundamentally stunted.”