Can I go to a museum? What the tier system means for art lovers

Alex Diggins
·3 min read
Can I go to a museum? What the tier system means for art lovers - Peter Summers
Can I go to a museum? What the tier system means for art lovers - Peter Summers

The lifting of lockdown on December 2 came as a relief to England’s beleaguered citizens and battered economy.

But with a new, tougher tier system that replaced the national lockdown, many in the arts sector have been struggling to keep their heads above water. Now, with London just announced to join many Northern cities in Tier 3, some of our most popular galleries and museums face uncertain times ahead.

So what does the new tier system mean for you? What art can you see, and who can you go with?

Tier 1

The ‘rule of six’ is still in force across all tiers. This means that you will only be able to meet up to five others in any indoor or outdoor setting. This includes museums and art galleries. 

There are capacity limits for all indoor and outdoor events, too. Venues will only be able to open with 50 per cent capacity or 1,000 people indoors - whichever is lower. Space will be severely limited, especially at popular exhibitions. Booking far in advance is essential. Masks must be worn. 

Art lovers are encouraged not to travel between tiers, except for purposes of work, education, caring responsibilities or medical treatment. If you live in a higher-tier area, then tough luck: you won’t be able to travel to a lower-tier one to amble through a gallery, or catch an exhibition. 

Tier 2 

The same restrictions as tier 1 apply - with some additions. ‘Rule of six’ is in place. But you will not be able to socialise with anyone you don’t live with or are in a support bubble with, in any indoor setting. Surreptitious 'bumping into' friends once inside is not encouraged. 

There are also rules around the sale of food and drink. Cafés and restaurants will be table service only if they serve alcohol. Though they will have to switch to takeaway if they stay open past 10pm. 

The British Museum, pictured just before the first lockdown - Rick Findler
The British Museum, pictured just before the first lockdown - Rick Findler

Tier 3 

The highest tier of restrictions in England. It is reserved for areas with very high, or rapidly rising areas of infection. The example of Liverpool, which moved from tier 3 to tier 2, provides some hope that areas might be able to shrug off the most draconian policies if their infection rates start to fall. London will join this tier from midnight, December 15.

In this tier, all indoor entertainment venues must close. Museums, galleries, theatres and concert halls will go dark. The restrictions also apply to indoor facilities in mostly outdoor venues, such as sculpture parks, botanical gardens and landmarks. 

You are also discouraged from staying ‘unnecessary’ trips outside of your tier area, including overnight trips. In addition, as with tier two, you bring your tier restrictions with you. So illicit breaching of county lines to get your museum fix is a no-no. 

The Christmas break period, between 23 and 27 December, when three households will be able to form a ‘Christmas’ bubble, is no exception to these rules. You'll have to stay within your household bubble when visiting museums, galleries and other exhibitions.