By Peter Libbey and Nicole Herrington
For New Yorkers who regard their local cultural institutions as unofficial civic symbols, the museum openings that began at the end of August are a welcome sign that the city’s spirit is starting to re-emerge after months of disruption and uncertainty. Broadway theaters remain shuttered, and it’s still impossible to see a movie on the big screen or eat indoors at restaurants, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are finally back.
Several other museums, including the Morgan Library & Museum and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, have returned as well, and more will begin to welcome visitors again in the weeks to come. On Saturday, the Brooklyn Museum, El Museo del Barrio and the Rubin Museum of Art will be open to the public for the first time since March.
Prospective patrons should be aware of the changes that museums have implemented to keep their guests safe. Some will likely come as no surprise. Masks and social distancing are mandatory, and the number of visitors allowed inside at once is strictly limited. You won’t be able to check your coat or bag, water fountains will be out of commission, food will be largely unavailable, and temperature checks will not be uncommon.
Other new protocols may take some more getting used to. Returning museumgoers need to plan their trips in advance because timed entrance tickets, which were mainly reserved for the most in-demand special exhibitions before the pandemic, are now a necessary tool for regulating the flow of visitors. Be sure to check online, because admissions are being handled slightly differently at every institution. Tickets at the Brooklyn Museum will be sold in 15-minute increments while the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens, which reopens Sept. 23, will offer access to morning and afternoon sessions. “We realize it’s a challenge to get out to us even when the subway is running under normal circumstances, so we felt the other system wouldn’t work for us,” said Jennifer Lorch, the museum’s deputy director, referring to more specific timed entries.
Freedom of movement within museums will also vary, with the size and setup of each institution dictating how much latitude patrons will have to wander. “We’re creating pathways that will allow you to enjoy the shows but not be colliding with other visitors,” explained Colin Bailey, the director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “We’re trying to keep the curatorial integrity of the layouts but also we want people to walk in certain directions.” Physically larger institutions like the Brooklyn Museum will be able to be less prescriptive.