French mayor re-opens museums, defying COVID closure

PERPIGNAN, FRANCE (AFP) – A far-right city mayor in France geared up to do battle with the central government yesterday, after announcing four museums would re-open in defiance of coronavirus rules.

“It is high time to re-open cultural venues,” Perpignan Mayor and deputy leader of the far-right National Rally Louis Aliot told AFP on Monday, announcing that his city’s museums re-opened yesterday after being closed since last October.

Museums across the country are desperate to re-open – even partially – to give the French a cultural shot in the arm after months without exhibitions, theatres, cinemas and live entertainment.

The Hyacinthe-Rigaud art museum in the southern city told AFP that roughly 50 visitors had arrived yesterday morning within 15 minutes of it re-opening.

“There are a lot of people,” a receptionist said by telephone.

People visit the exhibition ‘Portraits de reines de France’ at the Hyacinthe-Rigaud art museum in Perpignan. PHOTO: AFP

The Casa Pairal museum of Catalan art and the Natural History Museum also confirmed they had re-opened. The fourth – the Joseph Puig coin museum – was only due to re-open today.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which is trying to bring down stubbornly high coronavirus infection rates, ruled that all cultural establishments and restaurants should remain closed after the second lockdown ended in mid-December.

On Monday evening, the state’s regional representative went to court to try to keep museums closed pending a change in tack nationwide.

But at the same time the government has signalled it may soon allow museums to reopen.

On Monday, Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot promised that museums and national monuments would be the first venues to re-open but only when infection rates drop.

After talking to 30 museum directors, she said they had been “very open” to implementing a limit of one visitor per 10 square metres – up from one per four square metres before the lockdown.

Last week, hundreds within the art community signed two petitions to the government urging it to allow museums open.

“For an hour, a day, a week or a month – let us re-open our doors, even if we have to shut them again in the case of another lockdown,” they appealed.