British Museums Attendance Figures Down While International Galleries Return To Pre-Pandemic Levels

Tate Britain Photo © Artlyst

The latest government report on museum attendance in the UK has revealed a concerning trend of declining numbers despite the end of pandemic restrictions. The report, which focused on a network of 15 museums, including notable institutions like the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the V&A, and the Tate Museums, found visitor numbers during the first quarter of 2023 were more than a quarter lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Between 2022 and 2023, there were 35.1 million visits to state-backed museums and galleries in the agency’s network, marking a significant decrease of around 14 million visitors compared to figures from 2018 to 2019. The report also highlighted a sharp drop in foot traffic from international visitors, plummeting by 49.5 per cent in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels recorded in 2019.

Additionally, the report revealed a decline in loans from UK cultural institutions to other museums within the country, with a notable 18 per cent decrease compared to 2019. Statistician Fahim Ali, the report’s author, attributed these trends to the lingering effects of the pandemic, which have impacted institutions’ capacity to engage in domestic and international collaborative projects.

Despite these global trends, some UK institutions face challenges in attracting visitors. London’s National Gallery experienced the most significant absolute fall in visitor numbers, receiving 3.1 million visitors in 2023—a decline of 48 per cent from 2019. Similarly, Tate Britain and Tate Liverpool saw a 40 per cent decrease in visitor numbers compared to pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, Tate Modern and the Victoria and Albert Museum reported more modest recoveries.

In 2023, many of the world’s major museums returned to their 2019 attendance figures. The latest data reveals a narrative of recovery and resilience. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the top 100 museums collectively welcomed an impressive 176 million visitors in 2023. What’s more intriguing is that many of the world’s most iconic institutions are now on the brink of reclaiming their pre-pandemic glory.

In contrast to the UK’s struggling museum sector, international museum attendance figures have shown signs of recovery, with many major museums worldwide reaching or surpassing their pre-pandemic levels. For instance, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris reported a record number of visitors in 2023, marking a 6% increase compared to 2019.

The Musée du Louvre in Paris, usually the record holder for attendance, leads the charge, reclaiming its title as the most-visited museum in the survey, with 8.9 million visitors. The Louvre is only 8% shy of its 2019 attendance figures. Meanwhile, the British Museum in London continues to captivate audiences with 5.5 million visitors, marking a mere 7% dip from its pre-pandemic numbers.

In Madrid, the Prado enticed 3.3 million art enthusiasts through its doors, experiencing just a 5% decrease from 2019. Likewise, the Vatican Museums in Rome saw a modest 2% decline, welcoming 6.8 million visitors eager to explore its history and art.

But the story doesn’t end there. In Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum held steady with 2.7 million visitors, matching its 2019 attendance. Notably, over half a million visitors flocked to witness the spellbinding exhibition of Johannes Vermeer— undeniably the exhibition of the year.

Some other significant world museums surpassed their pre-pandemic peaks in 2023. The Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence soared to new heights with a surprise 15% increase, attracting 2.7 million visitors to bask in the splendour of Renaissance artistry.

And let’s not forget the rising stars of the museum scene. Recently opened gems like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, M+ in Hong Kong, and the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo had their best-ever years, drawing crowds of culture enthusiasts from around the globe. As these institutions continue to redefine the landscape of cultural exploration, one thing is clear: the enduring allure of art and history knows no bounds.

However, there are pockets of success within the UK museum landscape, with institutions like the National Portrait Gallery and the Young V&A reopening to record visitor numbers. Nevertheless, the overall picture painted by the latest report underscores the ongoing struggle museums face in the UK as they navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic and strive to reignite public interest in cultural institutions.

Top Photo: P C

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