As the region’s museums sat idle for the past couple of months, employees continued to protect world-class art, plan next year’s exhibits, host virtual tours and engage patrons via social media.
Arts and culture organizations, deemed nonessential under the governor’s executive order, have been hit especially hard during the coronavirus shutdown. Museums, symphony orchestras, and community arts centers shut their doors in mid-March, forcing the cancellation of concerts, classes, programs, and fundraisers.
Without much guidance from state officials, museums are doing their best to prepare for reopening and post-lockdown life. An official reopening date hinges on lifting the stay-at-home order and any restrictions placed on public spaces where people gather.
Looking ahead to summer, art museums have extended exhibitions and revamped schedules to accommodate exhibits that were scheduled to open or close this spring.
Grand Rapids Art Museum looks forward to welcoming visitors back as soon as it is safe and sensible to do so, said Elizabeth Payne, communications manager.
“Our team is working diligently to ensure the museum remains a safe and clean environment for visitors upon reopening,” she said. “GRAM will look to state, county, and city officials for guidelines that support our commitment to public health and safety.”
Current plans include regular deep cleaning of the museum, increased hand sanitization stations and “low-touch” interactions at the Visitor Services desk. The museum also plans to control the number of visitors at one time, to provide proper distancing.
The museum canceled all programming through June 30, in addition to Summer Art Camp and the annual concert series GRAM on the Green. During the closure, employees developed an array of digital content on GRAM’s social platforms and website for members and visitors to explore the museum from home.
The GRAM decided to extend the exhibition A New State of Matter: Contemporary Glass through October 4; it was originally scheduled to close April 26. The exhibit features work by 19 artists using glass in unique and revealing ways. This summer’s previously scheduled exhibition In a New Light: American Impressionism 1870-1940 is tentatively rescheduled for summer 2022.
Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts has considered a series of reopening restrictions and scenarios that include traffic flow, social distancing, masks, protective elements, and cleaning and sanitation protocols.
UPDATE: The UICA has decided to close its current building and move to Kendall's campus, suspending all programming until spring of 2021. For posterity's sake, the rest of the information here was reported before this news was announced.
“For now, we are waiting and watching what is coming next,” said Miranda Krajniak, UICA’s executive director.
The UICA extended two exhibitions, Translating Valence and A Beautiful Struggle, to August 16. Krajniak is hopeful the public will be able to experience these exhibitions this summer.
Staff members have been working remotely and plan to do so until the venue can reopen. In addition, UICA created programs to share online, including a Quarantine Video Contest and a partnership with Kino to screen new releases at home to support UICA.
“We are not planning to transition our exhibitions online at this time; the experience of viewing art in person is a key component of our mission,” Krajniak said. “We are focusing our social media efforts on highlighting local artists who need our support now more than ever.”
All things considered, the UICA has fared OK, Krajniak said. The organization has applied for grants and committed its resources to supporting Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University colleagues.
“We are in this together with our parent institution and will be working closely now and in the future on our mutual success,” she said.
Muskegon Museum of Art, in the best of circumstances, likely won’t reopen until later in June, said Kirk Hallman, executive director.
“We’re going to do the best we can to get open as soon as we can,” he said. “We just need that lead time to get everything in place.”
The MMA plans to limit attendance and not have any large-scale events, including auditorium programs, for a while. The museum also has converted bathroom faucets to no-touch and taken other precautions to promote patron and staff safety.
“Luckily, the art museum is a no-touch facility,” Hallman said. “But we’re planning one day at a time.”
For the most part, the closure hasn’t disrupted the summer exhibition schedule. The museum will devote all galleries to permanent collection holdings. The good news: The artwork is all in-house, so the museum won’t be out extensive exhibit costs or travel delays.
The MMA planned to open Shaping the Future, Celebrating the Past, along with Glass Treasures from the Permanent Collection, showcasing its major glass holdings, and several smaller exhibits on May 14; also intended was releasing details of a proposed expansion for the museum. Those exhibits are extended into November and the 92nd annual Michigan Contemporary Exhibition is on hiatus for a year.
The museum rescheduled several other key events, including its annual Gala, now set for August 29; the J2B2 Concert, moved to September 4; and the spring On Tap & Uncorked fundraiser, moved to September 25. Another museum fundraiser, Postcard Salon, will be held in the fall.
Staff members continue to work remotely and plan for the summer and future exhibitions. The staff has put volumes of content and activities online — including a virtual preview tour of three galleries from this summer’s upcoming exhibitions — and regularly posts pictures and information about permanent collection pieces on social media channels.
“We’re not really going to know the entire impact until we know the duration of this,” Hallman noted.
“I think everyone is going to take a hit. We’re going to try for any aid we can get.”