As COVID cases surge to new highs, museums across America close again

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As COVID cases surge to new highs, museums across America close again

The top of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which, like all other Smithsonian institutions in Washington, D.C., is now closed. (Clark Van Der Beken/Unsplash)

The last time AN wrote an article about U.S. museums uniformly shuttering to stymie the rise in COVID-19 cases, it was March 13 of this year; now, as the giant in Twin Peaks famously warned, “it is happening again.

Sorry, prospective museumgoers across the country, but as the U.S. enters a “second wave” of COVID infections that dwarfs the first and is largely growing unobstructed, art, design, and architecture institutions are once again closing their doors.

All Smithsonian-associated museums (and the National Zoo) in Washington, D.C., announced that they would close for the foreseeable future starting today, November 23. This includes the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery, as well as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and all other Washington-based institutions, eight in total. They had all only just reopened on September 25, and no indication has been given as to when they’ll reopen.

As for the Smithsonian’s New York City-based outposts (the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center), they never reopened after shutting down in March. With coronavirus now spreading across New York City once again, it’s unlikely either will open their doors again anytime soon. However, the Smithsonian pledged that it would keep creating virtual content to entertain housebound art and design aficionados.

In Philadelphia, where things continue to get worse, the city announced on Monday, November 16, that all museums must shut down from November 20 through January 1, 2021, to help keep COVID hospitalizations and deaths down. Then, on the 18th, the Philadelphia Museum of Art announced it would implement another round of furloughs, affecting 57 employees ahead of the holiday season. Staff making $100,000 to $150,000 will see 10 percent pay cuts, while those making over $150,000 will take a 20 percent cut.

A similar story played out in Chicago last week, as on November 18, museums in the city were ordered to close by Friday, November 20, as Governor Pritzker tightened Illinois’s coronavirus response, though many closed ahead of time. While some, such as the Field Museum, have indicated that they’ll reopen on December 4, most have taken the more realistic approach and not announced reopening dates yet. That includes the Chicago Architecture Center, which has also suspended its walking, bus, and river tours until further notice.

In California, as COVID cases continue to worsen, Los Angeles County museums with indoor programming remain closed, while museums in Orange County were similarly forced to shutter last week under orders from the governor. Elsewhere across the state museum admittance remains capped at 25 percent capacity, although outdoor sculpture gardens and the like are still open.

Although, as mentioned, COVID cases in New York are spiking and public schools have recently been shut as infection rates climb past 3 percent, museums and other institutions are, for now, remaining open at 25 percent capacity.

If you’re thinking of getting away to a sprawling outdoor art preserve in a state with high infection rates, it’s worth checking on a museum-by-museum basis for now. For example, Glenstone, in Potomac, Maryland, which had been open in the summer, closed on November 22, while Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, will remain open to the public throughout the winter season as per usual, but with reduced admission cost.

In Baltimore, the Walters Art Museum will close on November 25, as will the Baltimore Museum of Art (although the outdoor garden and shop will remain open), with tentative plans to open up again on January 6, 2021.

AN will update this list with further closures as cities, municipalities, and states mandate (or relax) further restrictions.