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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has given the go-ahead for action houses and art and antiques dealers to reopen from June. Image credit: Howard Lake via Flickr.

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Following representations by the British Art Market Federation (BAMF) and the Society of Fine Art Auctioneers And Valuers (SOFAA) to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) the decision has been made to remove auction houses from the list of business that must remain closed.

DCMS said art and antiques dealers will also be able to open premises from June 1.

The re-opening plan applies to all auction houses (not just fine art firms) in England only at this stage and any reopening is conditional and based on the government’s Covid Alert System which tracks the reproduction rate of the coronavirus and new infection rates.

New guidelines, currently being drawn up with BAMF and DCMS will detail how businesses can become “Covid-19 secure” such as the use of masks, limits on people in a venue and operating by appointment-only.

“Direct outcome of our lobbying”

Anthony Browne, chairman at the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), said: “Our main aim in recent weeks was to ensure DCMS put art market businesses in the first phase of non-essential businesses to reopen. This has been achieved and is the direct outcome of our lobbying. DCMS have been great and have been in regular contact. Sector guidelines are currently being drafted but will not delay the reopening of business in June.”

Helen Carless, chairman and managing director at Lawrences Auctioneers of Crewkerne, said: “As chairman of SOFAA I would like to thank Anthony Browne, chairman of BAMF, for leading the meetings with government and giving SOFAA the chance to present the auction house perspective. I would like to thank DCMS who have been extremely helpful and worked hard on behalf of the wider art market. It should not be underestimated what has been achieved. Up to this point the art market was very much viewed as a leisure industry and as such would have been unlikely to open before July.” 

A DCMS spokesperson confirmed that it is the intention to “open non-essential retail in phases from June 1, when and where it is safe to do so and subject to them being able to follow COVID-19 secure guidelines. This includes commercial art galleries and auction houses.”

In other documents released by government it said some outdoor businesses, which could include art and antiques fairs and markets, may be able to reopen in July ahead of some indoor public spaces such as cinemas. However there has not yet been any clarification on what type of businesses and how this could work.

The above updates relate to England and the different devolved nations within the UK are taking somewhat different approaches to respond to the current Covid-19 situation. Check each devolved government’s website for the latest updates.