Museums in London have closed their galleries to the public as they attempt to ride out the country’s unprecedented heat wave, which has sparked the UK’s first ever red-level heat warning and the declaration of a national emergency. The situation is especially dire, as air conditioning (itself a contributor to global warming) is not common in most public and private spaces there. Citing poor indoor air quality and a need to ensure the safety of staff, the staff union Public & Commercial Services called upon arts institutions in London to take appropriate measures.
Responding to the request, the British Museum on Monday and Tuesday closed the galleries on its topmost floors “to ensure the comfort and safety of staff and visitors,” it said in a statement, and closed its entire facility early, at 3 p.m., both days. While the Victoria & Albert maintained regular operating hours, Nick Marro, cosecretary of the PCS V&A Museum branch, “negotiated the distribution of fans and cold water for front-of-house staff, the relaxation of uniform guidelines, and the closure of galleries that reach 30C or above,” according to Novara Media. Most of the galleries closed were on the museum’s upper floors. All four Tate museums remained open during normal operating hours, as did the Royal Academy of Arts.
With both the British Museum and the V&A having telegraphed plans to return to business as usual on Wednesday, the PCS has urged museums across the country to shutter for the duration of the heat wave. Temperatures in the UK surpassed 104˚F (40˚C) on June 18, according to the UK Met Office, with twenty-nine cities across the country shattering the record of 101.7˚F, which itself was unfortunately set just three years ago. The heat has already melted a runway at London’s Luton airport and left a road in eastern England looking like a “skatepark” according to authorities there; a grandmother in Wales fried an egg on the dashboard of her Honda Civic. Temperatures in the UK are expected to reach 106˚F this week.