How is the arts world handling COVID and its controversies?

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Has the world gone mad?

I thought craziness lived mainly in Florida – the epicenter of the pandemic – where Gov. Ron DeSantis opposes both vaccine mandates for hospitals and mask mandates for schools. He even threatens to defund schools that require students to wear masks.

As it turns out, pushing back against vaccines and COVID restrictions spans the globe. Yahoo News recites objections to preventive measures all the way from Australia to France, and Israel to Bulgaria.

Resistance to COVID restrictions has even seeped like an oil spill into the arts world.

A museum director in Italy quit his job in protest against the state requirement that all museum visitors show proof of coronavirus vaccinations. ArtNet News reports that Fabrizio Masucci, who ran the Sansevero Chapel Museum in Naples for 10 years, quit in anger over his nation ruling that museum-goers must either show digital certification for at least one dose of the vaccine, or negative test results for the virus within 48 hours prior to their visit.

Italy’s law also applies to movie houses, indoor sporting events, and restaurants. France has an equivalent law. But Masucci said in an open letter that museums are different, and that his conscience demands he stand firm against what he calls his government “exploiting cultural institutions” by forcing vaccinations.

Exploiting? He explained his stance this way: “I would like to calmly remind you that museums are by their very vocation places of inclusion and that equal access to art and culture [is] a right of all.” Besides, he added, the state ruling is unnecessary because studies show that museums are safer than all other public spaces when it comes to contagion. (He didn’t identify the studies).

Meanwhile, here in the American museum world, masks are a must for entry. Boston’s art museums are mandating masks regardless of vaccine status (the lambda variant is reportedly vaccine-resistant). The Dallas Museum of Art calls for masks but does not require them for general attendees. It does require masks for children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated to mask up.

Face masks are so commonplace in American museum-going that to hear the New York Times tell it, they’re big sellers in museum gift shops.

Not in the Art Museums of South Texas, however. They had a mask requirement but dropped it in May when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott forbade such requirements. Abbott says he’s “defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up.”

“Liberty?” Isn’t that like protesting noise ordinances so you can play your boom box loudly all night long, even if it disturbs neighbors trying to sleep?

The Smithsonian’s American Art Museums require masks and, like every other U.S. art museum, ban smoking. Why don’t the anti-maskers object to the smoking ban in public places? Doesn’t that also interfere with their liberty?

“So, this is where we are,” as the Bastille song “World Gone Mad” goes. “It’s not where we wanted to be.” The last line of the lyric by Josiah Siska haunts:

“If half the world’s gone made/The other half just don’t care, you see.”

(cover photo is of Antonio Corradini’s sculpture “Veiled Truth” from 1750, courtesy Sansevero Chapel Museum)

Joan Altabe head shot
Author Joan Altabe is an award-winning art and architecture critic, author of two books, and a columnist for Blasting News. This article first appeared in Blasting News and appears here with its permission and that of the author. You can reach Joan at joaltabe@gmail.com.

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