St. Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum. Photo: Flickr.

Saint Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum Reports 50 Percent Revenue Loss

Museums in Russia are rapidly losing revenue and are among those hardest hit by the enforced Covid-19 shutdowns in March. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of Saint Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum, said the nation’s largest museum had lost half of its revenue since closing on March 18. According to AFP, the museum earned $32 million in 2018. “The entire available budget of the museum is spent on salaries and ensuring it is functioning, which is very expensive,” he told the Art Newspaper. “Right now we are in talks with the government on receiving compensation for this revenue shortfall.”

In addition to the financial fallout from the pandemic, the country’s oil and gas companies—a large source of funding for Russian museums—have suffered as a result of a price war with Saudi Arabia. With oil prices crashing, so has a major funding stream for national cultural centers, including the National Cultural Heritage Foundation, which was cofounded in 2018 by the Hermitage; the Bolshoi and Mariinsky theaters; and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. 

Zelfira Tregulova, the director of the State Tretyakov Gallery—which has been working toward building an ambitious new Rem Koolhaas–designed museum for the last two years—said in April that the museum was losing $37,000 daily during the lockdown. The capital’s Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts director Marina Loshak cited $27,000 in daily losses to the RIA Novosti news agency. Loshak said that she remained hopeful that slated exhibitions and loans would continue as planned, and that construction work on the Pushkin’s new Pushkin Modern “will continue at the same pace.”

The Garage Museum for Contemporary Culture, which was the first major Moscow museum to shut down because of the pandemic, has halted plans for the reconstruction of its Hexagon Pavilion in Gorky Park. “Like most museums, Garage is currently closed, so we have no updates regarding any of our offline projects at the moment,” said a museum spokesperson. 

On Thursday, a government official announced that restrictions in Saint Petersburg would only be lifted when the daily infection rate slowed to under 2 percent. It currently is between 7 and 8 percent. Meanwhile, government officials, including the Russian culture minister Olga Lyubimova—who announced on April 20 that the ministry was developing state support measures for its art centers—have contracted the coronavirus, as did Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin late last month.

The Hermitage’s Piotrovsky said yesterday: “We are often asked when we will open—we don’t know when.” He added that the museum would need two weeks after the lifting of restrictions in order to be ready to welcome visitors and that the museum currently “was working and is working” to keep facilities in operating order.

“We will have a big consultation with American, European and Asian museums, and we will discuss the experience of how to open,” he said. “How to avoid crowds, how to regulate entrance, distance in lines. It’s good that some museums will come out of quarantine earlier. We will be able to see how this will be.”