Museums around the world and across the country have reopened or are beginning to consider reopening after months of being forced to shut down to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The shutdowns have cost museums a lot in lost revenue, from tickets for entry and to view special exhibitions, to gift shop and cafeteria sales. The American Alliance of Museums ( AAM ) has estimated that museums of all types in the U.S. Were losing an average of $33 million a day, in total, during the height of the closures.
While many museum boards and staff members are anxious to reopen to serve the public, and to make up for lost funding, none will be able to serve visitors as usual when the doors first open. There will be timed entries, scaled-down numbers of visitors, as well as temperature checks, hand-washing stations, masks, and other health and safety measures.
And museums are likely to take it slow, limiting the capacity below even what’s required by local governments at first to make sure the procedures they are putting in place are working. They will also be holding off on hosting blockbuster exhibitions, events in big assembly halls, or offering their spaces for gala events.
A phased approach also makes it easier for the museum to walk it back should Covid-19 infections reemerge, as Elizabeth Merritt AAM’s vice president, strategic foresight, pointed out in a late April article written for members titled, “How to Get Ready to Open the Doors.”
How museums will move forward will depend on the size and nature of the museums themselves, as well as government regulations from the local level through to the state. To figure this out, “directors have been speaking to one another for the last three months,” says Christine Anagnos president of the Association of Art Museum Directors in the U.S.
Some of the first museums to test the waters have been in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott allowed institutions to open at 25% capacity at the beginning of May. The Houston Museum of Natural Science opened on May 15, followed by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on May 23.
The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA), meanwhile, opened on May 28, requiring pre-purchased timed tickets that are sold in four-hour blocks. Inside the museum, SAMA requires staff, members, and visitors to wear face coverings, and to wear them to view exhibits located outside when social distancing isn’t possible, according to its website. There’s no coat check, and large bags aren’t permitted.
But in Dallas, the county executive has yet to give an “all clear” to museums for re-opening, so museums in the Dallas Arts District, including the Dallas Museum of Art, have yet to reopen. The Nasher Sculpture Center has decided that it will not reopen before July 1, but whether or not it opens after that will depend on the status of the virus, and the requirements of the county executive.
“We are at this point following the advice of the county judge,” Jeremy Strick the Nasher’s director, says. “We’re hopeful conditions in the county will change for the better, and we’d love nothing more than to reopen, but we’re waiting and watching.”
Cases in Texas have since risen, although there is no change yet in statewide policies concerning reinstituting closings in areas of the state that have reopened.
That the situation will be different for each museum is evident in the considerations the Nasher, for instance, is weighing. With social distance requiring six feet between patrons, or groups of patrons, it will be difficult for the museum to admit visitors to even 25% capacity, Strick says.
“The fact that our galleries are filled with sculptures—which take up space—you end up with a hard number that’s well below 25%,” he says.
The architecture and design practice of Frederick Fisher & Partners, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, has been actively speaking with its museum clients in recent weeks, talking through everything from the flow of visitors through a building, to whether ventilation systems can be altered to allow for more fresh air.
Los Angeles County museums got the go-ahead to reopen as of Friday, but most are not ready to allow for visitors. The Craft Contemporary museum in Los Angeles, for instance, is considering mid-July as a possible opening time frame, but they haven’t set a date, says Joe Coriaty managing partner at Frederick Fisher & Partners, and a member of the Craft Contemporary board.
“Most people are considering slow and careful openings to test the water and see how their operations feel,” Coriaty says.
The first consideration for most museums is bringing back staff, and configuring the offices so that their employees can work safely. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM), for instance, has about 450 employees. “How do they continue to do their job safely and securely?” he asks.
NHM is working on its reopening parameters, but hasn’t set a date yet either. Among the many issues the museum is looking at is how to optimize the flow of visitors through its three stories, including a butterfly garden and its Nature Lab, a 6,500-square-foot hands-on gallery with live animals and interactive exhibits.
Frederick Fisher & Partners built a 3D Building Information Modeling display of the building that allows the firm, via computer, to populate the museum virtually so it can see how people would move through it in a way that would limit the amount of crossover circulation and bottlenecks, Coriaty says. They will combine these simulations with data the museum has on how many people tend to stay in a certain exhibition area, he adds.
Maybe the museum would consider managing the flow so some visitors go to one area, such as the butterfly pavilion, while others move to the North American mammal hall, for example, Coriaty says. Or maybe they will consider moving everybody along a single route through the museum, to minimize the crossover. Once the firm has collected all the information it can, and understands how each of the spaces in the museum are used, it can build two or three mapping circulation scenarios, he says.
“We can then see how they feel about how that works with their operations,” Coriaty says.
Whatever is eventually decided at NHM or the other museums the firm is working with, ultimately will be decided by the museums themselves.
Source: togel online via pulsa