The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Is the First Major Art Institution in the US to Reopen. Here’s How They’re Making It Work

The San Antonio Museum of Art will follow suit next week.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Courtesy of the museum.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Courtesy of the museum.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will reopen this Saturday, making it the first major American art institution to do so since non-essential business closures went into effect nationwide in March.

Strict safety measures developed in conjunction with the city and state will be put in place, including mandatory masks for everyone in the building. Visitors will have their temperatures taken upon entering the galleries and plastic panels will be erected in front of the admissions desk and gift shop register. No food, drinks, or large bags will be allowed and the museum’s water fountains and cafe will be closed.

Visitor capacity will be kept at below 25 percent on a room-by-room basis, and social distancing rules will be enforced. As a result, the museum is encouraging the purchase of advance timed-entry tickets online. (Tickets were made available starting today; a representative from the museum says it does not yet have an estimate for how many people it expects this weekend.)

“We recognize that circumstances may change at any moment,” said museum director Gary Tinterow in a statement, noting the museum’s “close coordination” with city hall” and other institutions in the Houston museum district. “But we remain hopeful that we will be able to serve our public under the safest possible conditions and under new norms, ones to which Houstonians across the city are already becoming accustomed.”

The San Antonio Museum of Art. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The San Antonio Museum of Art. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Texas governor Greg Abbott announced in late April that the state’s own stay-at-home order would be lifted at the beginning of May, and that museums, among other venues, would be allowed to open then. But the Museum of Fine Arts chose to delay its reopening, saying that the institution’s reopening task-force was still in the process of putting together a strategy for ensuring a safe experience for visitors and its 650 staff members. (The sentiment was echoed by the Contemporary Austin, Dallas Museum of Art, and almost every other sizable institution in Texas.)  

“We look forward to bringing some staff back into the buildings and welcoming the public,” a Museum of Fine Arts representative said in a statement at the time, “but we are evaluating all of our supplies, including masks and gloves, and assessing our infrastructure to ensure that we are ready to operate the museum’s offices and public areas safely and under social distancing.”

Another institution that previously chose to hold off on its reopening, the San Antonio Museum of Art, announced today that it too has a plan to return to work in a limited capacity. The venue will open its doors to museum members next Tuesday, May 26, and to the general public on May 28. Safety precautions similar to those devised by the Museum of Fine Arts will be implemented, including mandated masks and social distancing, though the museum will not require temperature checks upon entry. 


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