On Monday early this week, Louvre staff staged a walkout to protest what has been described as the increasingly unmanageable working conditions at the museum. Hundreds of tourists were left waiting in the rain when the museum failed to open Monday morning. Since 2009, museum attendance has increased by 20% while staff numbers have dropped from 2,161 to 2,005. Last year, the Louvre welcome a record breaking 10.2 million visitors. The security guards’ union has reported a monthly increase of around 100,000 visitors. According to the union, this has caused an “unprecedented deterioration in visiting conditions, and obviously working conditions” for the museum and its staff.
Header image: Crowds massed in front of Mona Lisa. Photo: Getty Images GETTY
Why are attendance numbers booming?
The growth in attendance has been attributed to a few interconnected factors. First, increased international attention was brought to the Louvre with the drop of Beyonce and Jay Z’s APES**T music video in June of 2018. Set entirely in the Louvre, the video received worldwide buzz for its highly stylized production. Second, the Louvre’s Eugene Delacroix retrospective, which closed in July of last year, broke museum attendance records for a featured exhibition. Finally, in 2019 the Louvre launched a new marketing campaign targeting younger attendees as well as local Parisians whose attendance numbers are dim. The marketing campaign included a viral collaboration with AirBnB where two guests were offered the chance of a lifetime to spend a night in the Louvre.
Too many visitors could endanger both staff and artworks
Despite the museum’s recent success in generating more business, the Louvre has not been able to retain enough staff to handle increasing traffic. The reason for this is unclear. In addition to demanding the hiring of more staff, the security union is also requesting immediate restrictions on the number of visitors permitted to enter the museum each day. Their concern is not only for the safety of the guests but the museum itself and the cultural artifacts it houses. A statement issued by the union implores the Louvre to “get out of mass tourism’ and ‘stop the establishment from turning into a cultural Disneyland’.
Employees plan to meet Wednesday morning to discuss next steps. So far, the Louvre has said little, stating only that “reception and Security staff are exercising their right to strike” and that they expect visiting rates to remain high in the coming days. They have also warned that only visitors with tickets purchased through the museum will be admitted until further notice. While the increase in ticket sales bodes well for the future of art history museums, the lack of adequate staff could put artworks, staff and guests at risk.