Museums across metro Phoenix closed as the coronavirus pandemic shut down Arizona businesses, ranging from restaurants and salons to movie theaters, and resulted in new guidelines limiting large gatherings from the CDC.
In the last week of May, news broke that the Heard Museum will reopen in June. An array of new safety policies will be in place when visitors are once again permitted in the museum, renowned for its Native American art exhibitions.
In an effort to decrease the spread of COVID-19 but also reopen, Heard visitors must wear masks. The museum also will have new, limited hours of operation and no more than 100 guests per hour in the building.
So far, the Heard is the only museum with concrete plans to reopen. Several other arts and culture institutions, including Phoenix Art Museum and SMoCA, are waiting.
Phoenix Art Museum does not have a set reopen date.
Administrators are, however, developing best practices by watching what other facilities, like the Heard, are doing.
They are considering whether to require masks, what social distancing might look like, and how to ensure crowd control when the museum opens its doors.
The main goal is to keep visitors and staff safe.
“We’re hoping to learn from our colleagues who are planning to open fairly soon and to see what their experiences have been like, what works and what didn’t,” said Nikki DeLeon Martin, PAM’s chief marketing and external affairs officer.
“We’ll probably open after others.”
Facilitators at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) are looking to slowly reopen in July with precautions in place.
But an official reopening date has not been announced.
“We will offer advanced, timed tickets to limit museum capacity and will have other social distancing measures in place, as well as increased cleaning measures,” said Jennifer McCabe, director and chief curator.
The Children’s Museum in downtown Phoenix does not have a firm date for when it will reopen but communications director, Marion Wiener said they are reviewing their options daily.
The museum sent out a survey to its more than 54,000 members and visitors to better understand how comfortable they’d be visiting once the museum opens.
“We asked questions about ‘when do you expect to revisit the museum again’ and yesterday the majority of them said within three months,” Wiener said on May 22.
The Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa has plans to reopen in early fall.
The museum offers many hands-on activities that will need to be modified before it can consider reopening.
“We’ve got to buy the new materials and create the new way to do things,” said curator of education Alison Stoltman.
“Having to change so much stuff on the inside it’s going to be a challenge but we are incredibly grateful.”
Instead of reopening, museums continue offering several virtual exhibit tours and online activities to stay connected to the community from a distance.
The Arizona Museum of Natural History, for example, has a digital series called You Create.
On Mondays via Facebook, museum curators and collection managers ask questions related to the museum’s exhibitions, community members submit their guess or create an answer and on Wednesdays curators post a video with the correct answer.
“At the end of this, when we do get to go back into the museum, we’re going to use a portion of the museum to create our own little community exhibit,” Stoltman said.
Phoenix Art Museum also has virtual tours of exhibits including “Indian: Fashion’s Muse” and a preview of “Teresita Fernandez: Elemental” available on its website.
“With these virtual visits we’ve been able to feature some pieces that a lot of visitors may not have seen in person because they might be in the vault,” DeLeon Martin said.
For now, administrators at each of these museums say they are tracking reports on coronavirus trends and following all local and national guidelines for safety.
“I’m amazed by the creativity and innovation of all arts and cultures institutions in the city and beyond,” DeLeon Martin said.
“I think that’s the responsibility of museums, we’re not just a repository of precious objects. We are an interactive space that serves a need and in a lot of ways we are at the heart of our communities.”
Click here to learn more about Heard Museum’s reopening.