The Governor of Texas Told Museums They Can Legally Reopen This Week. Texas Museums Said: No Thanks

Museum across the state are still planning how they will safely resume operations.

The Dallas Museum of Art. Courtesy of the museum.
The Dallas Museum of Art. Courtesy of the museum.

Texas governor Greg Abbott announced this week that the state’s stay-at-home order, first implemented on April 1, will be lifted at the end of the month. Museums, among other venues, will be allowed to reopen to the public—albeit at only 25 percent of their usual capacity—starting this Friday.

But institutions across the state—including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Nasher Sculpture Center, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston—are effectively ignoring the governor’s announcement and choosing to stay closed as the threat of the pandemic still looms. 

“Part of our responsibility to our staff and community is to ensure that they feel safe and welcome in our building,” says Agustín Arteaga, director of the Dallas Museum of Art, which announced that it would not be opening May 1. “With that in mind,” Arteaga continues, “we are working through various re-opening scenarios, taking into account new health and safety measures that would need to be implemented, as well as guidance from federal, state, and local officials.”

Contemporary Austin has issued a similar statement, saying that it has started developing sanitation plans for its two locations “so we will be ready when and if it seems safe to reopen incrementally,” says a representative for the museum. “This would happen in phases, and would begin by allowing some essential staff to return to work with staggered schedules to allow for necessary social distancing. Eventually the public would be allowed to return in limited numbers.”

The Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, the Menil Collection in Houston, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, the McNay Art Museum, and the San Antonio Museum of Art have all confirmed that they, too, will wait to reopen. 

May 1 marks the first phase of Governor Abbott’s reopening plan, which, in addition to museums, will also allow retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls to start up again. The second phase, which would see the occupancy limit raised to 50 percent, could be put in place as soon as May 18, he said. 

For museums that do choose to reopen, the governor has mandated that they must shutter any interactive, touchable components of their programs, including immersive exhibitions and play areas, which puts a particular strain on science and childrens’ museums.


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