Maira Kalman, an Israeli-born American illustrator, writer, artist, and designer once said this about museums: “A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can.”
Whether it’s walking through Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College or the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, there are plenty of museums in the Hudson Valley to inspire, rouse and influence.
Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring has instituted some revolutionary technology for its eventual reopening. (Photo: Marco Anelli)
Unfortunately, thanks to the pandemic shutdown, their doors are temporarily closed.
Museums are considered part of the 4th — and final — phase of Gov. Cuomo’s reopening plan. While there is no timeline as to when museums can open their doors to visitors again, behind the scenes these institutions are working hard to make sure their visitors feel safe and protected when they do come back.
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The Magazzino Italian Art, a 20,000-square-foot museum, designed by Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo, announced its plans to be the first museum in the country to require visitors to wear EGOPro Active Tags. The tags are a new social distancing technology that alerts users when they, or anyone around them, have breached the minimum safe distance.
“It will be a new normal,” said director Vittorio Calabrese, who took the museum’s programming online during the lockdown with, among other things, Instagram Live lectures.
“We realize the power of art and culture to help heal and to provide a distraction while the world stopped,” he said. “We’ve always been about slow art and not a lot of crowds. After we closed on March 11, we started to reimagine how life will look after COVID-19, so we looked to Italy and how they have been handling this crisis.”
In Florence, The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo introduced the EGOPro Active Tags technology prior to re-opening.
“The Magazzino is also working closely with officials at the regional and state level to build a protocol, because you won’t be able to visit without wearing both the device and a mask,” said Calabrese. “We will have extra security throughout.”
The museum will also implement a reservation-only system. “It will minimize a line and every entrance will be timed, but you will have enough time to experience the space and exhibition,” he said. Magazzino will encourage visitors to leave bags in the car, but unfortunately, will halt the use of their shuttle bus from the train station, at least temporarily.
“The priority is the safety of our visitors so we can open to our community,” said Calabrese.
Other museums are still providing virtual tours and exhibitions while putting together their reopening plan of action. The Katonah Museum of Art, for example, just opened a virtual tour of the work of artist Bisa Butler, which explores explores issues of racism, identity and the experience of African Americans.
Bart Thurber hasn’t stopped working since The Frances Lehman Loeb Center at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie closed on March 20.
“We’re not yet prepared to speculate on what we will look like when we reopen,” said Thurber, The Anne Hendricks Bass Director at The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. He is currently planning for summer outreach and programming, and the Center is offering as many as 200 packages of art supplies for local, school-aged children enrolled in USDA lunch programs.
“We’re also looking at all of the data that’s coming in to see what questions we all have and what’s changed among our supporters.” For example, Thurber explained that he’s looking at masks, the cleaning regimen and reducing the number of visitors.
In Yonkers, the Hudson River Museum, which opened in 1919, will require that its visitors wear masks, may establish admission timeslots to limit crowding and will increase cleaning schedules when it reopens.
“We meet regularly with the American Museum of Art Directors and with regional organizations to discuss plans and best practices,” said Masha Turchinsky, the museum’s director and CEO.
“We are also reviewing new technology, but each one poses a secondary issue. We are also considering admission time slots and one-way paths through the museum. In addition, the museum campus has a courtyard that allows for social distancing, so we’re looking at how we can bring the indoors to the outdoors.”
In the meantime, Turchinsky explains that the museum is taking the time to introduce their institution to new audiences through creative Instagram takeovers with other museums, such as the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Gibbes Museum in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We introduced armchair cultural travelers to our work and programs and history,” she said. “We’ve embraced the fact that the situation has changed and we have to pivot. It definitely won’t be the same museum it was when we closed in March.”
Turchinsky also recognizes the museum’s upcoming challenges.
“This is a moment of unprecedented decline of revenue, admissions, camp visits, school visits, and more,” she said. “Our gala in June is our largest fundraiser of the year. We are impacted financially so we have to rethink things, but we are fully prepared to work with schools and bring our programs online.”
At Dia: Beacon, Jessica Morgan explains that it’s too soon to say what the museum will do when it’s time to open.
“We have 11 sites and Beacon is our biggest and probably opening the soonest,” said Morgan, the museum’s director. “There, we have two entrances that can be changed to one entrance and one exit. We will drastically reduce the number of people who come in and even move our staff break room to spread out the team. It’s details like that and we’re extremely concerned about getting it right.”
In addition to the exhibits at the museums, some must consider traffic through cafes and gift shops.
“We are still trying to figure out how to reduce touch points there,” she said. “One of the exceptional things about Beacon is that it’s a large facility, so even on a pre-COVID day, when we might have thousands of people in the building, no one said it felt crowded.”
The Katonah Museum of Art plans to reopen as soon as it can be done safely and responsibly, said Executive Director Mchael Gitlitz. “At the same time, we continue to reimagine how the museum experience of the future might differ from that of the past. I anticipate that virtual content and livestreamed events, like those created for our current exhibition, “Bisa Butler: Portraits,” will be carried forward.”
Morgan hopes that one day all museums can get back to normal.
“It will be peculiar at first until we all become a little familiar with the protocols,” said Morgan, who also recognizes the financial stress that museums face.
“We won’t underestimate the financial stress, but we also tried not to make admissions a driving force of the institution,” she said. “We depend on private donors and we fully understand that they may not be able to give like before. Our programming has always been long-term and longevity is important to us. We don’t have to change projects as quickly and the core of our mission is to support our artists.”
Lisa Iannucci is a Hudson Valley freelancer writer. Contact her at email@example.com.
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