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With local pandemic conditions improving, and health and government officials loosening restrictions on what types of businesses can open, many museums and art galleries have started – or plan – to reopen their doors to the public.
That has prompted optimism among local leaders in the arts community who discussed reopening plans, how they withstood the financial impacts of pandemic closures and their role in recent social justice movements during a virtual meeting of the Greater Miracle Mile Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, March 18.
“We’re just very, very excited to be back,” said John Rice, marketing director for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “We’re just very, very excited to have everyone back.”
The museum will reopen on April 1 – also the museum’s birthday – and be limited to 25% capacity, with social distancing and mask wearing required. Tickets must be purchased in advance. He said the museum will have six new exhibitions, as well as extensions of some exhibitions that were on display when the museum closed more than a year ago.
“Of course I’m excited about all of them, but there are some recent acquisitions that we’ve made that have some really beautiful works in them,” Rice said.
Operations at the cultural institutions came to a halt last year when government officials took measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, such as banning gathering in public indoor spaces.
Museum and gallery leaders admitted the closures were devastating, but also forced them to get creative in how they reached the public, such as virtual exhibits, webinars and other ways to engage with the public.
Jordanna Gessler, vice president of education and exhibits at Holocaust Museum LA, said they shifted quickly last May to primarily providing virtual tours. That coincided with the launch of a new website and rebranding.
While they are not currently planning a reopening, the pandemic has actually allowed the museum to increase its reach with virtual guided tours. She pointed to the fact that they were able to reach 4,200 students in February, from as close as Fairfax High School and as far as Anchorage, Alaska.
“We had schools as far as Alaska touring our galleries with their own personal docent,” Gessler said. “This is something that I think we’ll continue to do even when we reopen. Just the way in which we’ve been able to bring our collection to communities and schools across the globe has been really phenomenal.”
That shift to digital outreach was echoed by representatives from many museums, including LACMA, where Rice agreed they will continue to use some of the practices long past the pandemic, including webinars for certain programs.
“We’re finding that often online engagement is the most appropriate type of engagement based on the content,” he said.
While they were able to reach people across the globe, Rice said the largest population for their online content was local.
“I think we’re realizing that you can reach a global audience, but really having a sense of place in the people that you serve locally is essential,” Rice said. “It reaffirmed the connection that we have with Los Angeles County and our immediate neighbors in Miracle Mile.”
Museum leaders also discussed their role in the social justice movements, saying that over the last year they’ve had discussions among museums and galleries about their role in shaping societal norms.
Mariko Yoshimura-Rank, director of board and community relations at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, said that’s been especially true in film. They’re planning upcoming programming with activists, scholars and film artists to discuss those topics.
“The museums are not neutral spaces. We have this great opportunity to platform and encourage dialogue,” she said.
While the museum, which is located adjacent to the LACMA campus, is not scheduled to open until September, she said that the pandemic closures have allowed the museum the opportunity to focus on community building.
“It’s really allowed us more time to be more collaborative and effective,” she said.
Ultimately, the participants in the meeting said that museums and galleries reopening is a sign of things getting back to normal.
“The key to recovery … is through the arts – leading through the arts and culture,” said Tim Pershing, a senior field representative for California Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). “Absence makes the heart feel fonder. … I think there’s going to be a great power, upwelling as everything starts to open up.”
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