The full cost of COVID to the income of The British Museum has been published today by the government after a 97% fall in visitor numbers.

The museum’s annual report and accounts to year end 31st March 2021 reveals that admission income for the period fell 93% to £0.3 million, down from £4.3 million in the previous year and net trading income fell by 97% to -£0.3m, from £8.7m in the previous year.

The steep decline in income comes as little surprise, with The British Museum closed for most of last year.

Its brief openings, with safety guidelines in place, took place from 27th August to 4 November, and 3rd to 15th December 2020, with visitors required to book a slot and to follow a distanced, one-way route. By October of last year, some visitors were able to obtain walk-up tickets.

By the day of reopening, 20,000 tickets had been booked, and over the subsequent twelve weeks of 2020/21 for which the museum was able to open, it counted 160,000 visitors, a small fraction of the 5.9 million who had visited in the previous period.

It was in fundraising that the museum saw its only upturn, raising £40.4m in 2020/21, up from £23.7m in 2019/20.

Donations and legacies of £39 million were received during the year, including those received from individuals, trusts and foundations and gifts in kind.

Two large individual gifts account for most of the increase in donations in the year. A further £3.1 million was received from other trading activities and £15.8 million from charitable activities.

The report states that “the nature and scale of the Museum’s activity over the next year remains uncertain and subject to the Government’s roadmap and the rate at which visit numbers – in particular from overseas – recover.”

Art Fund – News
A piece from The British Museum's online collection

An online pivot

During the period, the museum launched what it called a “much improved” online collection of objects which make up its BM Collection Online. The update was the biggest since its launch in 2017.

This scaling up was accelerated in the wake of its physical closure, and subsequently 3.75 million users looked at the online collection during 20/21, an increase of 60% over the previous year.

The museum claims the BM Collection Online is now one of the largest, most diverse online museum collections in the world.

The report shows how this online resource catered to an international audience which were undoubtedly underserved during lockdown; 3,000 overseas visitors came to the museum in 20/21, down from 3.8 million in 2019/20.

It reports that 50% of users to its BM Collection Online were from the UK or USA, with the rest from countries around the world. There are now 4.5 million objects featured, 1.9 million images – around half the BM Collection is now accessible via its website.

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