New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is tentatively planning to reopen at the end of this summer with major restrictions, becoming the largest museum so far to announce such a plan, as cultural institutions around the world weigh when and how to welcome back visitors while grappling with the reality that COVID-19 social distancing measures will have to continue for the foreseeable future.
The largest art museum in the U.S., the Met said Wednesday it hopes to reopen some time between mid-August and early September. Once it does so, the Met will have reduced visiting hours and will cancel all tours, talks, concerts and events through the end of the year — including officially shelving this year’s Met Gala, after initially postponing it indefinitely.
It is also postponing its 150th anniversary celebration to next year.
The timeline of the Met’s reopening is highly dependent on directives from New York state and city officials. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has authorized some regions of the state and certain businesses to begin a phased reopening process over the past week, New York City — the U.S. area by far the most severely affected by the pandemic — will almost certainly be the last to do so. And under the state’s guidelines, arts and cultural institutions are in the fourth and final category of places that will be allowed to resume operations, along with schools.
Globally, some museums have reopened in Asia and Europe, as countries there start to lift COVID-19 restrictions. For example, this week, museums in Italy and Belgium have cautiously begun to welcome back visitors, with safety measures such as requiring masks and limiting the volume of visitors.
It’ll likely look like this in the U.S. too. Some smaller museums have already outlined similar measures in their reopening plans, according to the American Alliance of Museums.
State and municipal lawmakers have communicated unclear messaging on what kinds of institutions can reopen and how they can do so safely, placing the onus on individual institutions. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is allowing outdoor museums, gardens, galleries and exhibitions to resume operations. However, in Los Angeles, officials have recommended not doing so, and it is unclear what constitutes an “outdoor museum.”
Closed since March, the Met, one of the world’s most visited museums and home to a $3.6 billion endowment, laid off 81 employees last month and has projected a $150 million loss from the pandemic. The losses will likely be even more staggering for smaller museums without large endowments or major donations — if they survive at all.
Prior to the pandemic, the museum had briefly closed on just two other occasions: after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“The Met has endured much in its 150 years, and today continues as a beacon of hope for the future,” the Met’s president and CEO Daniel Weiss said in a statement. “This museum is also a profound reminder of the strength of the human spirit and the power of art to offer comfort, inspiration, and community. As we endure these challenging and uncertain times, we are encouraged by looking forward to the day when we can once again welcome all to enjoy The Met’s collection and exhibitions.”
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