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Massachusetts Art Museums Are Reopening. Here's What You Can Expect

The front doors of the Institute of Contemporary Art in the Seaport. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The front doors of the Institute of Contemporary Art in the Seaport. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Museums around Massachusetts are gearing up for their reopenings after being shuttered since mid-March. Announcements have been rolling in since Gov. Charlie Baker gave Phase 3 the green light last week. The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston announced Wednesday that it will unlock its doors first to members on July 14 and 15, then to the public on July 16.

“We are thrilled to reopen, to be part of the reawakening of our city, to be a place where visitors can come and encounter works of art in person,” ICA director Jill Medvedow said. For her and her staff, this moment also brings some relief. “We do need the revenue,” she said. “We’ve been closed now for four months.”

She’s definitely not alone. Museums across the state are eager to get back to business with a slew of newly instituted safety protocols, including masks for all staff and visitors, an abundance of sanitizer stations, distancing signage and advance purchase of timed tickets to reduce occupancy. Medvedow said the ICA will limit the number of people inside the museum to one hundred per hour.

“It is not our intention to rush anybody through,” she assured, “but to be able to let people determine their own pace while we respectfully remind them and guide them to maintain physical distancing.”

The art exhibitions on display will be the same that were in the galleries when the museum closed in March, including the ICA’s collection show, “Beyond Infinity: Contemporary Art After Kusama.” The show presents work in conversation with the art of Yayoi Kusama, the Japanese artist behind the museum’s popular “Infinity Room.” (That immersive installation will stay closed for the foreseeable future for safety assessments.)

“We’re still working with architects and medical doctors and even airborne specialists to be very certain that we can open it safely and keep our staff and our visitors safe,” Medvedow explained. All of the ICA’s theater productions and performances have been postponed until 2021.

After its three-and-a-half-month hiatus, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum plans to reopen on July 15. “Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKellar & John Singer Sargent,” is still up on the walls and has been extended be through October 12.

Boston’s largest art museum hasn’t firmed up its reopening dates yet, but the Museum of Fine Arts is working towards early fall. “Taking the time to get this right, our cross-departmental teams are diligently working on a reopening approach that puts staff and visitor safety first,” the museum said in a statement.

A series of outdoor events are in the works though, according to the MFA, including concerts and films with the Roxbury International Film Festival. In the coming weeks, the museum will also announce rescheduled dates for two exhibitions that have been dormant since the pandemic hit: “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation,” along with, “Monet and Boston: Lasting Impression.”

In the Berkshires, the Clark Art Institute, the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) are welcoming visitors back the weekend of July 11. All three will ask visitors if they’ve experienced fever-like symptoms 48 hours prior to arrival and if they’re had contact with COVID-19 positive people in the past 14 days. Contact tracing information will also be collected.

MASS MoCA director Joe Thompson hopes his huge museum can play a part in breaking the monotony so many people have been experiencing day after day after day.

“Cabin fever is a contagion too, and I think places like Mass MOCA that have ample space and facilities and gallery guides can serve a real public purpose in that way,” he said. “I mean, where else do you go that you’re already used to being told to stand back and don’t touch?”

Thompson has been thinking about how to serve his community in North Adams, especially the elderly and immunocompromised people who’ve been living in more extreme lockdown situations. MASS MoCA will offer special hours just for them.

“That group is going to need places to go, safe places where they can be in clean, well-ventilated, socially-distanced, stimulating environments,” Thompson said, adding, “where they can get out of, you know, quasi house arrest.”

MASS MoCA will host its first public concert on Saturday, July 18 with performer Treya Lam in its “re-imagined” performance venue.

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem reopens to the public on July 18. Museum members are welcome July 16-17. In a statement director and CEO Brian Kennedy said, “During the pandemic, PEM has worked to be a beacon of light and inspiration for the community by sharing and encouraging creativity. Now it’s time to get back to what we do best: providing in-person encounters with art and culture that stir the imagination and spark important conversations.”

The exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle will be on view through mid-August and couldn’t be returning at a better time. The artist painted a series of 30 panels titled, “Struggle: From the History of American People,” during the civil rights era between 1954 and 1956.

The Fitchburg Art Museum reopens July 22 and will offer free admission until September 6.  The Norman Rockwell Museum is offering a Pay What You Choose option since so many people are unemployed or facing financial challenges. Many of the museums are offering free admission on their first days of reopening, including the ICA. Jill Medvedow said her team is determined to minimize risk, maximize safety and support people so they can have access to the museum.

“Anything we can do to remove barriers to make it easy for people to cross the threshold back into the new normal,” she said.

But even on those free days, if you decide to venture into a museum, don’t forget to reserve your tickets in advance.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 WBUR

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