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Richmond Museums Reopen Under Strict COVID Guidelines

Museums in Richmond will begin to reopen soon under strict safety guidlines. (Credit: Ståle Grut)


*VPM Intern Alex Broening wrote this story

Twenty-two cultural institutions in the Richmond area have announced plans to start reopening, as Virginia continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions. Most of Virginia entered the second phase of Gov. Ralph Northam’s three phase reopening plan on June 5, followed by Richmond and Northern Virginia on Friday, June 12. Under phase two, which permits gatherings of up to 50 people, museums are allowed to reopen with health protections in place.

Implementing some protections, like social distancing and frequent cleaning, isn’t possible for every institution. The Children’s Museum of Richmond faces a unique challenge, as most of its exhibits are touch-based. The museum will remain closed through phase two, but plans to reopen when it can comply with state guidelines.

No one knows when that date will be, but  Danielle Ripperton, president and CEO of the museum, said they’ve already formed a plan.

“We’re going to do a morning session, and then we’ll close down for an hour, and then do a later session,” Ripperton said.

Every touchable surface will be cleaned between visitors, and objects will be sorted into separate bins for cleaning.

“We’ll have staff on the floor that are cleaning while guests are there, and we will have wipes available for parents,” Ripperton said.

Additional safety measures will include plexiglass screens at information desks, and cashiers and floor markings to maintain social distancing.

Like many institutions, the museum has also suffered economic losses during the pandemic, and chose to permanently close its Fredericksburg location to cut costs. Ripperton said she hopes reopening will allow many of their furloughed employees to return to work, but it may depend on how many people visit the museum.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is another attraction that plans to reopen at the end of this month. And, although most of the garden is outdoors, Lewis Ginter’s Director of Marketing Beth Monroe said they still have to be careful.

“We will require face coverings while inside, and we’re strongly suggesting them even when outside,” she said, adding that signage and floor markings have been set up to remind visitors. Some high-touch areas, such as the children’s garden, will also remain closed.

In early April, Lewis Ginter furloughed more than 80% of its staff because of the pandemic. Since then, a federal small business loan and a newly approved budget has allowed nearly 70 of Lewis Ginter’s more than 100 employees to return to work.

That staff has installed a new exhibit of kinetic sculptures called “Wind, Waves, and Light,”  which will be on display when the garden reopens to members on June 25, and to the public on July 16.

Samuel Asher, the executive director of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, says that while physically closing the museum was “unfortunate,” the museum has been lucky to see increased interest in their online presence. 

“Our professional development for teachers has become even more robust because we’ve been able to do it online,” Asher said. 

In recent online seminars, he’s seen a 50% increase in attendance, and he expects even bigger numbers for their annual workshop to help educators understand the holocaust. Like other museum directors, Asher hopes to see an immediate influx of visitors when they reopen, sometime in early July.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has also been preparing for reopening. Because the VMFA encompasses nearly 500,000 square feet, Director Alex Nyerges said they will be able to host more than 50 people at once. Entrances and exits have been altered, as have the routes through exhibits, in order to maintain social distancing.

When the VMFA reopens, the current special exhibition, called “Sunken Cities,” will be limited to 100 concurrent visitors - a quarter of what the museum typically allows. Like other museums, the VMFA will also require visitors to wear masks. But, “If a visitor doesn’t have a mask, that’s not a problem,” Nyerges said. The museum has ordered 90,000 disposable masks to distribute to visitors who need them. 

The VMFA has had to cancel its extensive in-person summer camps and programs for students. Instead, like the Virginia Holocaust Museum, certain classes have been moved online, and the VMFA is exploring the possibility of holding virtual camps later this summer. 

The VMFA will reopen to the public on July 4.

Other cultural institutions that will have announced their plans to reopen include the Science Museum of Virginia, the Institute for Contemporary Art, the Library of Virginia, and Maymont. A full list can be found here.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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