Exhibiting caution: Some museums are reopening IRL, others waiting until fall

  • The grounds of the Springfield Museums have remained open, but starting Monday, the buildings are being opened to the public, including the William Pynchon Memorial Building, home to the “Amazing World of Dr. Seuss” museum. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hand sanitizers and directional arrows are seen in the Seuss museum, where president and CEO Kay Simpson sits Wednesday in a display from “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Detail of “Horton Court,” with Cindy Lou Who, in the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pairs of Seussian feet painted on the approach to the entrance of the Springfield Museums encourage patrons to maintain social distance during their visit. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Detail of “Horton Court” in the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums. Photographed on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • “Ted Geisel and the Cat in the Hat” in the Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden at the Springfield Museums, capturing the author and his most famous creation. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING


  • An image of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, visible over the entrance to the William Pynchon Memorial Building at the Springfield Museums, home to the “Amazing World of Dr. Seuss” museum. Photographed on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Visitors examine work last fall by sculptor Leonardo Drew at the University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass Amherst. Executive Director Loretta Yarlow says the museum will reopen to the public this fall, but only for limited visits arranged in advance. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Ellen Keiter, chief curator for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, says the museum is considering a September reopening but is still assessing exactly how that might be done to maintain safety protocols. All museums in the state will be allowed to reopen by July 13. Gazette file photo

  • In background, Jessica Nicoll, director and chief curator of the Smith College Museum of Art, leads a tour at the museum a few years ago. Nicoll says SCMA will reopen for students and some staff in late summer but not for the public. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Thursday, July 16, 2020

Although the state has now allowed museums and cultural sites to reopen, most venues in the area are proceeding cautiously, with some not planning to unlock their doors before September — and then under limited circumstances.

But the Springfield Museums began welcoming visitors again this week, with what officials say is a host of provisions to protect against COVID-19: timed tickets to spread out visitors, mandates on wearing masks, and stepped-up cleaning procedures.

“We are overjoyed to welcome visitors back to the museums,” said Kay Simpson, the president and CEO of the Springfield Museums. “We want to provide an experience that is both safe and inspiring.”

To that end, Simpson noted, ensuring visitor and staff health and well-being has been a top priority in planning for the reopening. “We are truly all in the same boat and pulling for each other,” she said.

For starters, visiting hours each Monday from 10 a.m. to noon are reserved for those 60 and older. Hours for the rest of the public are noon to 5 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The museums will operate at about 25 percent normal capacity, Simpson notes, and to do so, visitors are urged to buy tickets online at springfieldmuseums.org/tickets/. Officials say visitors may have to wait to see some exhibits during their time in the museums, where one-way traffic and social distancing protocols will also be in place.

There will also be some interactive exhibits, with sanitizing stations nearby for visitors to clean their hands before and after they touch the displays.

Among the exhibits now open are “LUSTER: Realism and Hyperrealism in Contemporary Automobile and Motorcycle Painting,” a collection of paintings inspired by cars and bikes, and “The Lion Guard,” an exhibit aimed at kids and families that’s based on Disney Junior’s hit series “The Lion Guard,” which itself is a continuation of the story from “The Lion King.”

Still planning

Other museums are still developing plans to reopen. At the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Chief Curator Ellen Keiter says staff are looking at a possible reopening in September. The Amherst museum has offered a number of online programs and features since March, the most recent being “Art in Place,” a virtual exhibit featuring work by 21 children’s book artists, all if it created during the pandemic.

Keiter says museum staff, working remotely, have had regular discussions about reopening and what safety protocols need to be established, while also looking at what other museums are doing.

“We have to consider so many things, from how many people we can have inside at a time, to how far apart we might need to space the artwork in exhibits,” Keiter said. “And we want our visitors and staff to feel safe when they are here.” The museum hopes to open a number of live exhibits that had been scheduled to debut by this point, including one featuring recent collage work by Eric Carle himself.

At the Smith College Museum of Art in Northampton, Director Jessica Nicoll says the museum will have a limited reopening by early September for students and staff, but not for the public. That decision, she adds, is in keeping with the college’s overall reopening plan, called “Culture of Care,” to reduce the number of people on campus to ensure that social distancing and other safety protocols are followed.

“We’re using this time to think about how we can best perform our mission,” Nicoll said. “We’re also reworking the museum, creating a kind of hybrid model that’s a combination of live and digital content. ... We’re thinking hard about how we can continue to be an important resource for students and the community.”

The Smith College museum’s virtual content includes a series of online talks hosted by staff, “Summer Tea With Curators,” that examines the fives senses through the lens of the museum collection. On tap for the fall is another program, in partnership with the college’s Poetry Center, in which selected poets will use pieces from the collection as inspiration for creating new verse and then read the works online.

And, given this year marks the museum’s centennial, organizers plan to unveil a virtual exhibit in late August, “SCMA Then/Now/Next,” that will feature more than 100 artworks from the collection “across time, geography, and media,” as program notes put it. The exhibit will include video and audio content, and some related virtual programming will be added in the fall.

Nicoll says she’s not sure when the museum itself will reopen to the public — perhaps next year — but in the meantime, she and other staff will continue to think about SCMA’s future and its role on campus. “Hardship aside, one of the silver linings [of COVID-19] is that we’ve been able to give some more thought to where we want to go and what we want to be,” she said.

The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College is taking a similar approach, says David Little, director and chief curator. The museum will only reopen for students and faculty in fall, with staff and security working in part-time shifts at the building to coordinate with visitors examining the collection — including live exhibits still on display from winter and spring — for their coursework. Meantime, a number of virtual exhibits have been added to the Mead’s website, and others are being planned, Little says.

Little, who’s been working from home, says the Mead is also taking this period to develop ways to make the museum more welcoming to students of color, from the content of exhibits to the manner in which staff interact with visitors. “When people come into a museum, how do you welcome them?” said Little. “That goes a long way to how someone experiences the art.”

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Loretta Yarlow, executive director of the University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA), says the museum will reopen for the fall semester — the exact date has not yet been determined — but that public visitation will be by appointment only, with a limited daily and weekly schedule. Masks and social distancing will be required, she notes, and the museum will close Nov. 20, when UMass ends its fall semester.

The exhibits that were on display when UMCA closed its doors in March will still be in place, Yarlow added: Roni Horn’s “Pi,” a series of impressionistic photos from Iceland, and Procheta Mukherjee Olson’s “Palimpsest,” a selection of miniature oil paintings inspired by Indian life and history. Yarlow says UMCA will also offer some expanded online content for those exhibits, including slideshows and some PDF and video “tours” designed by student educators.

A little further afield, MASS MoCA in North Adams reopened July 11, though tickets must be purchased online so that visits can be staggered for safety reasons; some smaller outdoor music performances at the museum will also resume starting July 18. And in Williamstown, The Clark Art Institute reopened July 12 under similar conditions, with carefully controlled visitation; visitors at both locations will be required to wear face masks.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.