Wednesday, October 4, 2023

From dinosaurs to drive-ins: New York’s museums begin to reopen while continuing virtual and community programming

New York City area museums are in the process of reopening with COVID-19 precautions in place. They are opening following guidelines administered by state and local governments, along with guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control. All museums are limiting attendance to 25% maximum capacity, primarily facilitated through advanced timed entry. In addition to temperature checks at the entrance, museums are requiring visitors to wear masks at all times and to practice social distancing.

Not all museums have announced opening dates. Many are suffering financial hardship as a result of shutting down while maintaining public engagement programs for both the local community and a wider global audience. We look at a cross-section of nine museums, including those showcasing art, history, and science, along with the region’s largest operator of zoological parks.

All photos are credited to their respective institutions.

Metropolitan Museum of Art (pictured above)

The Met’s Fifth Avenue campus will reopen August 27 and 28 for members and August 29 for the general public. The Met Cloisters will reopen September 12. While required for the general public, members and patrons may enter without a timed ticket.

“After nearly six months, The Met’s reopening will be a historic moment for the Museum and the City,” said Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Met. “Throughout the recent months of uncertainty, isolation and grief, we have longed for the day when we can safely welcome everyone back to The Met, where all can find comfort, inspiration, and a sense of community. To see visitors walk through the doors of the Museum once again will be a very powerful experience.”

Max Hollein, Director of The Met, commented: “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for—we’re ready when you are! While the Museum was closed throughout these many months, we have been inspired by the dedication of our vast community of art lovers—both in New York City and around the world—and we are excited to now be able to open The Met Fifth Avenue to all, as well as to continue to connect with audiences everywhere through our virtual programs and tours.”

American Museum of Natural History

The museum will reopen on September 2 for members and September 9 for the general public. All theaters, including the Hayden Planetarium, along with the Rose Center galleries, will remain closed for the time being.

Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History, said, “We believe that the work of this Museum, which is fundamentally grounded in science, has never been more important. Institutions such as ours have a critical role to play in restoring our sense of progress and community by bringing us together virtually and physically to learn about the environment and the natural world around us, about one another and our diverse cultures and backgrounds, through experiences that are transporting, enriching, and, especially important at this time, joyful. Our digital offerings remain accessible to serve the widest possible audience on an ongoing basis, and we look forward to opening our doors on site as soon as possible to welcome the public back to the Museum.”

Tenement Museum

On July 22, the museum announced that the temporary furlough of 76 front-facing part-time staff initiated in March would be made permanent. Unlike other NYC museums, the Tenement Museum, which showcases the immigrant experience, is comprised of cramped recreated homes inside two tenement buildings, a situation not conducive to COVID-19 precautionary measures. In the interim, the museum will continue to offer a virtual presence and neighborhood walking tours for up to eight people at a time.

“For the past several months we have focused on pivoting our visitor model to digital platforms, developing alternative revenue streams, and growing philanthropy with the goal of ensuring the institution’s long-term survival and retaining as many full-time staff members as possible after the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] period ends on September 20,” said Tenement Museum President, Morris Vogel.

Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum Complex

While the Intrepid has yet to announce a reopening date, it continues to provide a variety of alternative options via online platforms. These include virtual tours, talks, oral histories, and teacher and homeschool resources.

Intrepid Museum President Susan Marenoff-Zausner was among the signatories of a July 31, 2020 letter to US Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (representing New York) from New York state-based destination marketing firms and businesses.

The letter states in part: “The U.S. travel industry has been hit harder than any other industry by the pandemic. In 2019, there were 15.8 million travel dependent jobs. As of May, 8.1 million of those jobs have been lost. Traveler spending is forecast to decline by $519 billion by the end of this year.

“We write as dedicated servants of the businesses and workers who depend on travel and tourism in towns and regions throughout New York. Significant and immediate relief is absolutely necessary to bring back jobs in New York and provide for the economic well-being of those who are suffering greatly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It will be challenging for travel to rebound from the current downturn without real assistance and meaningful help from Congress.”

Wildlife Conservation Society

The Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, and Queens Zoo all reopened on July 20 to members and July 24 to the general public. The New York Aquarium will open for members August 24-26 and the public August 27.

“We are thrilled to once again welcome guests back to the aquarium,” said New York Aquarium Director Jon Forrest Dohlin. “We will debut a new exhibit, Spineless, along with a harbor seal and two sea lion pups. We are pleased to once again welcome guests to Ocean Wonders: Sharks! and all of our exhibits which highlight marine species and stories from New York waters and around the globe.

Brooklyn Museum

The museum’s first and fifth floor galleries will reopen September 12 with timed entry tickets available online. The museum’s cafe and restaurant will remain closed, while all tours and public programs will remain canceled.

“We are thrilled to again open our doors to our visitors. In a time of great uncertainty and profound isolation, I am hopeful that visitors can find comfort and inspiration at the Museum,” said Shelby White and Leon Levy Director Anne Pasternak. “There is a great need for compassion and healing in the world right now. Our institution has lived through many crises and persevered, and we draw strength from this history of resilience. We look forward to welcoming everyone back.”

New York Hall of Science

Located on the site of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair in Queens, the New York Hall of Science has not yet announced a reopening date. The museum is putting its efforts into remote learning opportunities and unique community engagement. One such activity is the Queens Drive-In, which combines science fun from the museum with classic films curated by the Museum of the Moving Image.

“It is our hope that the Queens Drive-in will help in the process of revitalizing culture in the borough,” said Dr. Margaret Honey, President and CEO of the New York Hall of Science. “We’re beginning by showing films, but as we are able, we hope to feature cultural programming from Queens organizations. This partnership among Museum of the Moving Image, Rooftop Films, and the New York Hall of Science has made an additional commitment to use a portion of the Drive-In’s proceeds to go to Queens organizations that are helping the communities most afflicted by COVID-19 recover.”

Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Museums

The Statue of Liberty National Monument is opening in phases. Currently, only food service, gift and merchandise shops are open. The Statue of Liberty Museum will reopen on August 24, as will Ellis Island and the Ellis Island Museum. The interior of the Statue of Liberty, including the pedestal and crown, will remain closed.

Solomon D. Guggenheim Museum

The Guggenheim Museum will reopen for members on September 30 and the general public on October 2. For every admission ticket purchased in advance of the museum’s reopening, the Guggenheim will give a complimentary family pass to an essential worker, including those in healthcare, food service, and more. The museum continues to offer virtual and online education opportunities for a myriad of ages.

Liberty Science Center

Located in Liberty State Park, New Jersey, the science museum will open September 4 for members and September 5 for the general public. Some exhibits will be altered or removed to comply with COVID-19 measures, while the museum introduces new exhibits and programs more favorable to current public health and safety standards.

“LSC’s mission—to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers—is more urgent than ever. We need to encourage kids who will grow up to cure diseases, discover distant planets, create life-changing technologies, and lead us to a brighter future,” said Paul Hoffman, President and CEO of Liberty Science Center. “We’re thrilled to be able to welcome learners of all ages back to LSC where we can provide inspiring and entertaining learning experiences.

““In these challenging times, LSC will be focusing on the safety of our guests and our staff. We’ll be offering terrific no-touch, low-touch, and minds-on science experiences. I can’t wait to reopen and personally greet members and visitors.”

Joe Kleiman
Joe Kleiman
Raised in San Diego on theme parks, zoos, and IMAX films, InPark's Senior Correspondent Joe Kleiman would expand his childhood loves into two decades as a projectionist and theater director within the giant screen industry. In addition to his work in commercial and museum operations, Joe has volunteered his time to animal husbandry at leading facilities in California and Texas and has played a leading management role for a number of performing arts companies. Joe previously served as News Editor and has remained a contributing author to InPark Magazine since 2011. HIs writing has also appeared in Sound & Communications, LF Examiner, Jim Hill Media, The Planetarian, Behind the Thrills, and MiceChat His blog, takes an unconventional look at the attractions industry. Follow on twitter @ThemesRenewed Joe lives in Sacramento, California with his wife, dog, and a ghost.

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