What Is the Best Way to Reopen an Art Museum After Lockdown? A New Guide From the National Endowment for the Arts Offers Six Practical Tips 

Consult with health professionals, embrace transparency, and document the whole process, the NEA advises.

A person wearing a mask shows his ticket to employees at the newly reopened Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has released a 42-page guide detailing best practices for US arts venues reopening their doors during the pandemic.  

“The Art of Reopening,” as the document is called, is the result of interviews with nine arts organizations that have successfully resumed business in the past few months—albeit in a constricted, adaptive manner. 

The organizations comprise an intentionally diverse group that spans artistic disciplines, budget sizes, and geographic regions in the name of capturing a broad snapshot of the US arts landscape. Among the interviewees are representatives from Americans for the Arts and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, as well as performing arts operations like the Cincinnati Ballet and the GALA Hispanic Theatre. 

The guide lays out six bulleted lessons learned from these venues, with a focus less on specific safety measures than administrative and ideological approaches. 

“Adapting quickly to new circumstances and information, and communicating those lessons promptly and effectively to artists/staff, board members, donors, and the public will attract greater confidence in your endeavor,” reads one tip from the guide. 

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, for example, has consulted with the nearby Baylor College of Medicine on its reopening plans. “We have assembled a team to help us think through this, to help us move through this really challenging time,” says the museum’s chief development officer, Amy Purvis, in the report. “The team helps us navigate the different and evolving thoughts about how the disease is transmitted, its incubation period, and the viral load.”

The document also encourages organizations to strengthen ties to their local communities, re-commit to their founding missions, and to keep a camera rolling during all the ups and downs as they feel their way through these unprecedented times. Documenting and sharing the journey, the guide says, can help reach increasingly broader audiences.

Included in the guide, too, is a survey of the reopening strategies from national service organizations in the arts, such as the American Alliance of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors, conducted by the NEA’s office of research and analysis last September and October. 

Not surprisingly, the study found that museums have reopened at a greater rate than performing arts institutions. Programming-wise, reopened venues across both categories have found success with virtual performances, outdoor events, and timed or ticketed entry. 

Download the full “Art of Reopening” guide here.

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