Visitors return to local museums

Attendance is not what it was before the pandemic, but guided tours and digital events have been well-received

The National Gallery Singapore lit up last month as part of this year's National Day celebrations. Its visitor numbers have more than doubled compared with its first week of reopening at the end of June.
The National Gallery Singapore lit up last month as part of this year's National Day celebrations. Its visitor numbers have more than doubled compared with its first week of reopening at the end of June.PHOTO: ST FILE

Visitors are returning to museums although attendances have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the National Heritage Board (NHB) and National Gallery Singapore (NGS) have told The Straits Times.

Attendance at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) climbed last month, thanks partly to the National Day Open House, says Mr Kennie Ting, group director of museums at NHB.

Average monthly visitorship to ACM and NMS last month was more than 12,000 and 31,000 respectively, compared with more than 10,000 and 28,000 in July.

At the National Gallery Singapore, visitor numbers have more than doubled compared with its first week of reopening at the end of June, says its chief marketing officer Chris Lee, 49.

"While visitor numbers have been steadily increasing week-on-week, they are currently still at about 50 per cent below the pre-Covid-19 period," he adds.

The ArtScience Museum - which recently opened a new show titled Planet Or Plastic? - has been reporting similar trends.

Its executive director Honor Harger says: "We are seeing the return of our local residents to the museum. It is particularly busy on weekends and during school holidays."

Museums reopened on June 26 after eight weeks of closure as part of circuit-breaker measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

NHB and NGS have reported good responses for guided tours, which resumed late last month with capacity caps. NGS has had "a healthy take-up of our daily guided tours", says Mr Lee.

There are daily English-language tours at both ACM and NMS, but Mandarin tours are available only on weekends at NMS and will resume at ACM from Saturday.

Mr Ting, 42, adds: "The tours have been well-received and staff have observed that visitors are happy that the tours have resumed."

We feel that... online programmes represent a new chapter in our evolution as a museum and perhaps show one way that museums can work sustainably during Covid-19.

ARTSCIENCE MUSEUM EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR HONOR HARGER, on museums' push to go digital amid the coronavirus pandemic. The ArtScience @ Home digital programme offered more than 50 events during the circuit breaker.

Mr Lee says NGS has also received encouraging response to its free, one-year Gallery Insider membership promotion. The membership for Singaporeans and permanent residents offers unlimited access to the museum's shows, access to selected programmes and discounts on museum merchandise and food and beverage outlets.

"Since its launch as part of the National Day celebrations in August, there have been more than 125,000 sign-ups online, with more than 25,000 visits made to the Gallery to activate the membership," Mr Lee adds.

Singapore has been opening up gradually in the past two months.

Mice - meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions - events can now accept up to 250 participants, while up to 100 people are allowed at places of worship.

Museums and heritage institutions will offer a mix of limited on-site programmes and online options for the time being.

Mr Lee says NGS will take its cue from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

But NHB's Mr Ting says: "Taking guidance from Singapore Tourism Board's safe management measures for guided tours, we are also reviewing the number of participants in our museum-guided tours."

STB guidelines currently allow tour groups of 10, divided into two sub-groups of five which are not allowed to mingle.

In the meantime, all museums have amped up digital options.

The ACM has launched a digital version of its new Material and Design galleries, as well as ACM Treasures, which allows people to look at a selection of artefacts in augmented reality.

Both the ACM and Indian Heritage Centre offer self-guided tours, while NGS has introduced TEMI, a robot that can take a visitor on a 20-minute tour of four artworks at the DBS Singapore Gallery 1.

Ms Harger notes that the silver lining of the crisis has been the push to go digital, which has enabled museums to reach audiences beyond Singapore's shores while keeping local audiences close.

ArtScience @ Home, the museum's digital programme, offered more than 50 events, ranging from conferences to performances, during the circuit breaker.

Ms Harger adds: "We feel that these kinds of online programmes represent a new chapter in our evolution as a museum and perhaps show one way that museums can work sustainably during Covid-19."

Education Minister Lawrence Wong said last Wednesday that the Government may present plans for moving into phase three, but caution is the keynote for museums at the moment.

Mr Ting says: "It is still early days to predict how the numbers will change, as much will depend on what is happening at a national and global level."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2020, with the headline 'Visitors return to local museums'. Print Edition | Subscribe