A bit of bright news for the Washington, D.C., cultural scene (and tourism machine): A slew of Smithsonian Institution-operated museums—seven in total—along with the National Zoo will reopen throughout May after being shuttered for over a year, save for a brief phased reopening last summer and fall. The sweeping closures were instituted as part of a second District-wide rollout of COVID-19 shutdowns in November put in place as a new wave of infections swept the nation. With the Smithsonian being a notable holdout, many smaller private museums across the nation’s capital, and the country, have already welcomed back (a limited number of) guests in recent weeks with health and safety protocols in place. (Be sure to check out AN’s non-exhaustive list of new exhibitions to check out this spring at reopened museums in D.C. and beyond.)
The first Smithsonian institution to reopen will be the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, on May 5, an event that coincides with the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard becoming the second man, and first American, to travel to space. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery are all slated to reopen on May 14. A week later, on May 21, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, and the National Zoo, which now has a notable eight-month-old new addition, will all reopen. All of these museums and the National Zoo reopened, albeit briefly, during the latter half of last year.
While these soon-to-reopen (again) museums represent a sizable swath of Smithsonian real estate, many of the institution’s most beloved museums will remain closed until further notice. Per Smithsonian Magazine they are: the National Air and Space Museum (not including the Udvar-Hazy Center) and the National Museum of Natural History, both highly trafficked destinations on the National Mall, the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of African Art, The National Museum of Asian Art (the Freer Gallery of Art and the Art M. Sackler Gallery), and the Anacostia Community Museum. The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in Manhattan will also remain closed with no clear reopen date although that will likely come sooner rather than later as occupancy restrictions at New York museums and cultural institutions begin to loosen.
As reported by the Smithsonian, the museums set to reopen next month will have adjusted hours and free timed ticketing systems in place to prevent overcrowding—those accustomed to sauntering into a Smithsonian-operated space at any time they wish will now need to plan ahead. Social distancing will be encouraged and mask-wearing for all guests over the age of two will be mandatory. In most cases, save for the National Zoo, on-site cafes and retail outposts will remain closed for the time being.
As a Smithsonian spokesperson relayed to the New York Times, capacity at each of the museums will start around 25 percent but will gradually increase when officials deem it safe to allow more visitors into the museums at once. Further down the line, the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building, which has been off-limits to the public for decades, will temporarily reopen its doors in November for the special David Rockwell-designed FUTURES exhibition.