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How Will the Art World Recover from COVID-19?

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Courtney Pierce

Center for Art Collection Ethics Graduate Assistant

Elizabeth Campbell

Director of the Center for Art Collection Ethics

Blog  •
Signs on the steps of The Met announcing the museum’s closure.

Signs on the steps of The Met announcing the museum’s closure. Photo by Karsten Moran for the New York Times. Image retrieved at

Cultural institutions across the globe are reeling from closures and cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid the upheaval and uncertainty, can this pause also provide an opportunity for museum reform? New York Times art critic Holland Carter recently argued that big, encyclopedic museums could use the current shutdown to rethink their mission — “what they were and are” — and evaluate the “present turbulent state of the art institutional soul.” He offers a five-point plan.

How will cultural foundations respond to the crisis? On March 30, The Art Newspaper featured an open plea from their Los Angeles correspondent, Jori Finkel, to James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Pointing to philanthropic efforts in other cities, such as a $75 million relief fund in New York created by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Carnegie Corporation, Finkel proposed that the Getty step up to support Los Angeles-area cultural institutions.

As the world’s wealthiest art organization, with an endowment estimated at $7 billion in 2019, the Getty has disbursed grants totaling some $400 million over the past thirty years through its Foundation, with a strong track record supporting local and regional initiatives. Three days after the publication of Finkel’s letter, the J. Paul Getty Trust announced plans to establish a $10 million fund for small and mid-sized Los Angeles-area institutions impacted by the pandemic. Grants to museums and other organizations are expected to range from $25,000 to $200,000. 

Writing from a legal perspective, art law attorney Nicholas O’Donnell warns of the likely impact of the pandemic on the art market. He sees the recent bankruptcy of New York-based Paddle 8, an online auctioneer, as a harbinger of hard times to come, and offers an actionable guide to keep art businesses afloat. 

 While the need for social distancing will continue to keep museums closed to visitors, the art world is taking stock of ways to mitigate the damage wrought by the pandemic. May these efforts include even further investment in provenance research, transparency, and ethical stewardship. In this area as in others, the challenges will long outlive the virus.