Jan 07 2020

Australian Galleries Implement Emergency Measures Amid Bushfire Crisis

by Kylie Yeung

A number of cultural venues, including the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, closed temporarily or implemented other safety protocols due to poor air quality resulting from the nationwide bushfires. Photo of Canberra on January 5, 2020, via Canberra Times journalist Lucie Bertoldo’s Twitter.

As devastating bushfires continue to sweep across Australia, galleries have been forced to implement safety measures in order to protect both people and artworks. On January 5 and 6, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra—which currently has the world’s worst air quality rating due to smoke from surrounding bushfires—closed its doors, marking the first time the institution was shut for two consecutive days in its 53-year history. 

NGA director Nick Mitzevich explained to the Daily Telegraph: “The bushfire is really having an effect and we can’t guarantee the safety of our air quality in the building, with the movements of the doors opening and closing.” Mitzevich added that the temporary closure would safeguard artworks from smoke damage, and that all international lenders to the NGA’s current blockbuster exhibition, “Matisse & Picasso”—which includes pieces from the collections of the Tate in London and Musée National Picasso-Paris—have been briefed on the institution’s protective measures. The NGA reopened on January 7, but the outdoor café remains closed.

Other venues affected by the bushfires include the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre in New South Wales, which has been ensuring that gallery doors remain shut as much as possible due to smoke. A spokesperson from the Blue Mountains City Council stated, “In future years we will be programming our exhibition space through summer to focus on exhibitions that can’t be damaged by smoke, and also limiting the travelling exhibition works in our store areas.”

The Murray Art Museum Albury similarly plans to bolster its emergency management plan, director Bree Pickering told the Sydney Morning Herald. The institution has been serving as a temporary shelter for those displaced or otherwise affected by the fires. 

To date, around 12.35 million acres of land have burned across Australia, killing at least 24 people and almost half a billion animals.

Kylie Yeung is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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