Here's what museums are doing to welcome visitors back during the pandemic

From timed tickets to rethinking the gallery space, museums are making changes to safely welcome people back.
US-HEALTH-VIRUS-MUSEUM
On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that museums will be able to reopen in New York on Aug. 24.ANGELA WEISS / AFP via Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Long lines at museums, packing into tight spaces to catch a glimpse of artifacts and art masterpieces and lingering for hours on end are now relics of the past.

As museums in the United States reopen during the coronavirus pandemic ⁠—or prepare to, they're taking special precautions to ensure visitors can still appreciate art, history and culture, but from a safe social distance.

A closed sign outside of Museum of Modern Art on March 13, 2020 in New York City.Getty Images

When and how will museums reopen?

On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that museums will be able to reopen in New York on Aug. 24. Museums must cap occupancy at 25 percent, issue timed tickets to ensure staggered entry and require visitors to wear face masks at all times.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is planning to re-open on Aug. 29. While the popular museum was always crowded with members and visitors before the pandemic, the number of people allowed in rooms will be controlled to ensure there's enough space between groups. Touching frames and art is off-limits. And of course, masks are a must, according to guidelines posted on The Met's website.

Other New York museums are offering incentives to guests, like the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art that will be letting visitors in for free the entire first month they are open starting Aug. 27.

When the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania closed its doors in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, the staff immediately formed a task force to plan their reopening, said Amy Ferracci, director of marketing and public relations at the museum.

"We decided to allow 15 timed tickets every 15 minutes," she said. "There are never more than 120 people in the museum at any given time."

The Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania is taking precautions, including a timed ticketing system, to ensure visitors are able to practice social distancing.Courtesy Michener Art

There are also signs guiding the directional flow as people walk through the museum and appreciate each piece. "Our curatorial staff was able to get into the galleries and re-imagine them to allow for generous social distancing," Ferracci said.

The museum had to delay an exhibit called "Rising Tides" that was meant to be shown in April to coincide with Earth Day. It turned out to be the perfect exhibit for reopening during the pandemic.

"It's 16 large works of contemporary art. It's very spaced out and a great environment to not have to get near other people," Ferracci said. "We did get lucky with that one."

The Heard Museum in Phoenix, where Native American art and culture is on display, reopened on June 9th amid a surge of cases in the state of Arizona.

People still came. Attendance in June and July was about 30-40% what is was during the same period last year, but is picking up, according to David Roche, director and CEO of the museum.

The Heard Museum in Phoenix, where Native American art and culture is on display, reopened on June 9th amid a surge of cases in the state of Arizona.Joe Sohm / Visions of America / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“We believe that at this moment the need for art, and the unique work of the Heard Museum, has never been greater," Roche told TODAY. "Of course, we wouldn’t have re-opened unless we were confident we that could do it safely. Our aim is to provide not only a world-class museum experience, but a safe one as well.”

The Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. is also welcoming visitors, but requires them to follow a list of "COVID Commandments."

"Thou shalt download the museum map on your phone."SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images

Those include: "Thou shalt wear a face mask.

"Thou shalt download the museum map on your phone.

"Thou shalt recognize there may be capacity limitations in some of the galleries, attractions, theaters, and food and beverage areas."

"We’ve always considered the strength of museums to be the encounter with the real, the real object, the real experience."

There are more than 35,000 museums in the United States, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a government office.

There are more than 850 million visits to museums in the United States every year, according to the American Alliance of Museums. At least 55 million of those are visits from students in school groups. The coronavirus shutdown has drastically altered the bottom line for museums, which rely on members and entry fees to continue to survive. A June survey from the America Alliance of Museums found that as many as 12,000 of museums in the United States may close for good.

There are more than 850 million visits to museums in the United States every year, according to the American Alliance of Museums.Keith Pitts Photography llc

The Children's Museum in Richmond, Virginia made the difficult decision to close its Fredericksburg branch in June.

“This decision was made with a heavy heart,” executive director Danielle Ripperton said in a statement. "It is necessary in light of our extended closure and resulting loss in revenue."

In July, the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles announced its will close its doors after a decade. The museum said it would donate its prints to a “a highly reputable public archival institution.”

The Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida doesn't yet have a reopening date, however the museum is doubling down on its virtual tours to bring in revenue, even offering "Scientastic Virtual Birthday Parties," where the birthday star can pick a science related theme and the museum takes care of all the fun over Zoom. (There are also free tours to keep the public engaged from the safety of their homes.)

The Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is offering virtual tours until it can safely reopen to to the public.Museum of Discovery and Science

"We’ve always considered the strength of museums to be the encounter with the real, the real object, the real experience. It’s about the thrill of coming face to face with a life-size Megalodon, of meeting our North American river otters and climbing into the cockpit of a real McDonnell Douglas DC9," Joseph P. Cox, the museum's president and CEO told TODAY.

While Cox said some of those experiences can't be replicated virtually, the museum has been able to reach people even outside of South Florida with its online offerings.

"Connecting virtually allows us to provide access to educational resources to those who need it, no matter where they are," he said. "And at the same time, we look forward to reopening our doors to members, our local community and visitors from all over."