SINGAPORE - Visitors are returning to museums, although attendances have not recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the National Heritage Board (NHB) and National Gallery Singapore (NGS) told The Straits Times.
Attendances at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) and the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) climbed in August, thanks partly to the National Day Open House, Mr Kennie Ting, NHB's group director (museums), said.
Average monthly visitorship to ACM and NMS in August was over 12,000 and 31,000 respectively, compared with over 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, Mr Chris Lee, 49. "While visitor numbers have been steadily increasing week on week, they are currently still at about 50 per cent below pre-Covid-19 period," he said.
The ArtScience Museum, which recently opened a new show, Planet Or Plastic?, reported similar trends.
The museum's executive director, Ms Honor Harger, said: "We are seeing the return of our local residents back to the museum. It is particularly busy on the weekends and during school holidays."
Museums reopened on June 26 after eight weeks of closure as part of Singapore's circuit breaker measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
NHB and NGS report good responses for guided tours, which resumed in late August with capacity caps. NGS has had "a healthy take-up of our daily guided tours", said Mr Lee. There are daily English tours at both ACM and NMS, but Mandarin tours are available only on the weekends at NMS and will resume at ACM from Oct 3.
Mr Ting, 42, added: "The tours have been well received, and staff have observed that visitors are happy that the tours have resumed."
Mr Lee said NGS has also received encouraging responses to its free, one-year Gallery Insider membership promotion. The membership for Singaporeans and permanent residents offers unlimited access to the museum's shows as well as access to selected programmes and discounts on museum merchandise and F&B outlets.
"Since its launch as part of our National Day celebrations in August, there have been over 125,000 sign-ups online, with more than 25,000 visits made to the Gallery to activate the membership," he added.
Singapore has been opening up gradually in the past two months. Meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) events can 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 digital options for the time being. Mr Lee said NGS will take its lead from the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
But Mr Ting said: "Taking guidance from Singapore Tourism Board's safe management measures for guided tours, we are also reviewing the number of participants for 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 works of art at the DBS Singapore Gallery 1.
Ms Harger notes that the silver lining has been the push to digital which allowed museums to reach audiences beyond Singapore 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 Hargear added: "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 week that the Government may present plans for moving into phase three, but caution is the keynote for museums at the moment.
Mr Ting said: "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."