Museums and cultural institutions announce temporary closures as Omicron variant spreads

Now On View: Déjà Vu

Museums and cultural institutions announce temporary closures as Omicron variant spreads

A pre-pandemic view of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. (Robert Bye/Unsplash)

Although the exceedingly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 isn’t believed to be as prevalent in the United States as initially estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its high transmissibility and ability to evade vaccines and natural immunity combined with the continuing widespread presence of the believed-to-be more severe Delta variant has forced numerous museums and other cultural institutions to rethink their admissions and operational policies as we face down 2022.

So, will we see a mass shuttering of museums during the first part of the New Year? Although that answer isn’t entirely clear at this point, some stateside institutions are already taking a lead from their European counterparts and enacting temporary closures beginning now and lasting through the first week of the New Year. It’s also worth noting that, unlike the closures experienced last year, some of the actions that we’re seeing now across a range of cultural and entertainment sectors aren’t specifically being enacted to help limit the spread of the coronavirus among guests. Instead, these closures are prompted by the fact that multiple staffers, performers, etc. have already been infected, which, in turn, limits operational capabilities.

Below is a list of institutions that have announced temporary closures or altered admittance policies in light of the Omicron surge. We will continue to add to this list as additional museums announce any changes beyond their existing standard health and safety protocols such as mask and proof of vaccine requirements; here’s hoping that this list stays brief and any necessary closures are on the shorter side. As always, do be sure to read a museum’s full visitor guidelines before heading out the door as an increasing number of institutions, even if open to the public as normal, are putting pauses on in-person tours and special programming, etc.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

While the Met does not, as of this writing, plan on temporarily closing its doors to the public, the museum did announce on December 21 that it will indefinitely limit capacity to 10,000 guests per day, which, as recently noted by Hyperallergic, is roughly half of the normal number of visitors during the busy holiday season. Hyperallergic also pointed out that the Met is something of a bellwether among U.S. museums as it was the first major institution to close its doors in March 2020 as New York City was pummeled by the original wave of the virus. Proof of vaccination is also required for visitors over the age of five and all in-museum dining options are also currently closed. Full visitor guidelines can be viewed here.

The Baltimore Museum of Art

Although the BMA is currently back open with health and safety measures in place, the museum temporarily closed its galleries from December 22 through December 26 due to a surge in infections across Maryland. (News of the brief closure came a day after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19.) The museum reopened its galleries today, December 29, as scheduled.

“Given the current surge in positive COVID cases, we need a moment to step back and ensure our staff is ready to serve Museum visitors,” read an announcement posted by BMA on December 21. “We think cautiously is the best way to move forward right now. As first reported by the Baltimore Sun, another major Baltimore museum, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture closed its doors on December 22 with plans to reopen on January 5.

Smithsonian museums

As of this writing, a total of four Smithsonian Institution-operated museums in Washington, D.C., are currently closed with plans to reopen on Monday, January 3. The four impacted museums rank among the smaller and lesser-trafficked Smithsonian destinations, and their collective closure is a largely strategic one that will help larger museums experiencing COVID-related staffing shortages remain open during the busy holiday tourism season. They are: The National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, and the National Museum of Asian Art (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery).

The Smithsonian explained the brief closures in a December 28 press release:

“Like many other organizations, the Smithsonian has been managing the direct and indirect outcomes of the latest surge in covid infections caused by the omicron variant. Over the last few days, the Smithsonian has seen an increase in positive covid cases and associated quarantine periods among our essential and operational staff. The closures of these four museums will allow the Smithsonian to reallocate staff and keep all other museums open for the remainder of the week.”

The Noguchi Museum

The Noguchi Museum in Queens is currently closed through January 4 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in New York City. It is scheduled to reopen on January 5 with robust health and safety protocols in place including limited capacity, mask requirements, and mandatory proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

The Children’s Museum at Holyoke

A heads up to parents and caretakers in and around west-central Massachusetts: The Children’s Museum at Holyoke has announced that it will be closed until further notice beginning today, December 29, “out of an abundance of caution given the rise in COVID cases throughout the region.”

Peabody Essex Museum

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, the storied Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is temporarily closed until January 6 to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Cincinatti Art Museum

While not explicitly COVID-related, the Cincinnati Art Museum, one of the oldest museums in the U.S., announced earlier this week that it will cease nearly all in-person operations, including its cafe, gift shop, indoor galleries, and public programming, for a span of 10 days in January (January 3­­–12, reopening January 13) in order to provide its employees and volunteers with a post-holiday wellness break. The museum’s outdoor Art Climb and digital offerings will remain active during the pause.

A press release elaborated:

“While the pandemic continues to impact all organizations, it was only an indirect factor in this pause. The goal of this time is to allow the museum’s 235 employees and hundreds of volunteers to focus on their personal healing and community service. Staff is creating intentional goals around ways to focus on personal wellbeing and are encouraged to volunteer with agencies that support the community during this time. The museum’s architecture and ample spacing, along with hospital-grade filtration and visitor safety protocols allow the Cincinnati Art Museum to continue to be one of the safest and healthiest places in our region.”