The art world is eager to open up from the quarantine, in part because the arts provide something to a society that it gets from no other source.
A couple of weekends ago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston became the first major American art museum to reopen since the country went into lockdown back in March. On Saturday morning May 23, a score of museum devotees, all in masks and observing proper distancing etiquette,
were lined up before the doors even opened. Gary Tinterow, the Museum’s director, was there to personally welcome visitors back. He said that by mid-May the museum was getting almost 100 calls a day asking when it was going to reopen. Of the museum’s being opening now, he said he believes “that we can create as safe an environment as possible,”
In order to open, the museum is not only limiting the number of people who can be in its galleries at once and requiring them to wear masks, it’s also devoted significant time and resources to assembling a stockpile of supplies not usually associated with art museums: 250-pound barrels of hand sanitizer from North Carolina; 10,000 disposable masks for people who don’t arrive with one, thermal imaging technology to take people’s temperatures, and loads of disinfectant acquired from the Houston Children’s Museum. It’s not cheap, but as Tinterow told Texas Monthly, “We don’t exist to make money,” he says. “We exist to provide opportunities to see works of art.” The museum’s large endowment has enabled it to avoid laying off any of its staff so far.
Since opening back up, things have gone smoothly and there have been no problems and no protests: Apparently, the overlap between museum goers and people who refuse to wear masks is very small.
With 300,000 square feet of gallery space the museum is one of the largest in the United States. Up in Dallas, the wonderful but much smaller Nasher Sculpture Center is looking to open sometime around July 4. “We don’t see this as a race,” said Jeremy Strick, the director. “There is not necessarily glory to be found in being first.” The Nasher is considering new equipment like motion-activated faucets in its restrooms and coating doorknobs in copper, which has antiviral properties. “I think everyone is assuming that there’s going to be a learning curve,” Mr. Strick said. “If we can profit from that learning, that will be to everyone’s benefit. We want to do everything we can to get it right.” None of Fort Worth’s wonderful trio of art museums has announced an opening date as of yet.
In New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art recent said that it’s planning to reopen to the public sometime in mid-August or in the weeks just after. Its President Daniel H. Weiss called the museum “a profound reminder of the strength of the human spirit and the power of art to offer comfort, inspiration, and community.” For anyone who’s eager get back into a museum and see a favorite work of art again in person, those words ring very true.