When the iconic T. Rex at the American Museum of Natural History again welcomes visitors, it will gaze down at humans acting a bit differently. They will still gape up at its massive skeleton, but there will be fewer of them. They’ll stand farther apart and wear masks. Other pandemic precautions will include hand sanitizer stations and one-way signs guiding guests through exhibits.
The museum is like many cultural institutions in the city gingerly reopening their doors, weighing the safety of visitors and staff with the need to educate, inspire and support New York’s recovery.
“We have to re-imagine and re-engineer the museum visit,” says museum President Ellen Futter. “We want to fulfil our civic mission. And we think that our mission has never been more important.”
New York City was by far the hardest-hit US city by the pandemic. It’s also home to world-class cultural institutions that have for decades — and city leaders hope will once again — draw millions.
The Museum of Modern Art opened on Aug 27, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened its Upper East Side home on Aug 29. The American Museum of Natural History plans to reopen to the public on September 9.
City museums will institute a range of precautions, including reduced hours, reserved tickets, mandating masks, limiting attendance to a quarter of capacity, and closing movie theatres, coat rooms and food courts.
Some of the new rules might make future trips to a museum less spontaneous and escapist, but there are some benefits.
“It’s true that it will be less crowded. It also will be more intimate and it may give people a different view of things. I don’t think that will diminish in the least the sense of the visit,” said Futter.
Other institutions need a bit more time. The Guggenheim will reopen on October 3, while the 9/11 Memorial Museum will reopen on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.