It’s easy to forget how big the Science Museum of Minnesota is. How vast the exhibit space is – some 60,000 square feet on three levels. How high the ceilings are. How large are many of the items in its collections, from the T-Rex in the lobby to the astronaut suspended over the stairs to the model of the monstrous prehistoric snake, Titanoboa, in the Science Superheroes gallery. The Omnitheater’s domed movie screen is 9 stories tall.
Almost everywhere you look are things to touch and handle. The museum has an abundance of what are called “high-touch” areas. This is one reason why it’s opening later than other museums like Mia and the Walker. When staff did a detailed inventory of exhibit spaces – display cases, interactives and enrichment areas – they came up with 246 and made decisions about the safe use of each one. Some were removed, some were changed to stand up to frequent cleaning, and the rest were repositioned to allow for safe distancing. Twelve cases of natural history specimens were added to the Mississippi River Gallery and Dinosaurs and Fossils.
When the Science Museum reopens at the end of this month, there will be a whole lot of cleaning going on.
We were there Friday for a preliminary walk-through, and except for the lack of people and the eerie quietness – this is a museum normally filled with children – it seemed much the same as before, with COVID-19 tweaks. A curtain hangs over the ticket windows; all tickets must now be purchased online. Ticket-scanning machines are in place, and hand sanitizer stations. The Explore Store seems more spacious. Everything plush is now out of reach. Floor signage reminds people to stay at least 6 feet apart. Walkways in exhibits are wider.
But the “Race: Are We So Different?” exhibit is open. So is the “Sportsology” exhibit. The Dinosaurs and Fossils Gallery has been rearranged to bring the dinosaurs closer. The water-mist tornado whirls in the Experiment Gallery.
Sadly, the “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon” exhibit, which opened Feb. 1 and closed, along with the rest of the museum (and most of Minnesota) on March 13, has moved on. It was on loan from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and has now returned home.
Naturally, the Science Museum will follow science-based health and safety best practices. Masks will be required. HVAC ventilation will be increased. EPA-registered disinfectants will be used. Seating in the Omnitheater will be safely spaced and limited. (The first giant-screen feature will be “Ancient Caves,” which premiered right before the museum closed.) Entry to elevators will be limited. Luckily, the museum has a big, wide, airy staircase, right below the giant astronaut.
Friday was also the first day when Science Museum employees were allowed back into the museum. There are fewer of them now. In late July, 158 employees were laid off. All arts and culture organizations have been battered by the virus, but museums – those seemingly stalwart and immortal institutions, the pride of their cities, towns and states – are especially imperiled. According to a survey from the American Alliance of Museums, as many as a third of U.S. museums might not survive until next fall.
If you’re already a fan of the Science Museum, you’ll want to return when the doors open again. If you’ve never gone but you’re curious, this would be a very good time to pay a visit. Aug. 21-23 and 28-30 are reserved for members. Sept. 4-6 is the first weekend the museum will open to the general public. For now, hours are Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets are timed and must be reserved. Capacity is limited to 250. FMI and tickets.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Tonight (Tuesday, Aug. 18) at 6:30 p.m. CST online: Jeremy Denk Plays Schubert, Chopin and Schumann. St. Paul Chamber Orchestra fans, this should warm your hearts. In 2018 and 2019, the SPCO season opener featured superstar pianist and MacArthur fellow Jeremy Denk, one of the orchestra’s artistic partners. For 2020-21, all artistic partners have been furloughed and all concerts have been canceled through Dec. 2020. Tonight, the 92nd Street Y in New York City will present Denk live in concert, taking us on “an inward journey reflecting on creativity sparked by adversity.” He’ll announce the program. If you can’t catch tonight’s performance, you can watch the concert stream at your convenience for one full week. FMI and tickets ($10).
L Wednesday (Aug. 19) at 12 noon: Music from the Porch at Landmark Center: Dan Newton “Daddy Squeeze.” If you’re in downtown St. Paul tomorrow at noon, catch an hourlong concert by a man who has been entertaining audiences on the accordion for more than 30 years. Most people know Newton from his main band, Café Accordion Orchestra, whose music draws on French Musette, Gypsy Swing, Cajun, jug band, Tex-Mex and Cumbia to set a party mood. Or maybe you’ve heard one or more of his 25 albums. He’s also a splendid solo performer. 12 p.m. on the Market Street entry “porch.” Free.
V Thursday (Aug. 20) at 7 p.m. on Zoom: One Book, One Minnesota: “A Good Time for the Truth” author discussion. If you’ve been reading “A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota,” like many other Minnesotans, here’s your chance to hear from some of the authors. This free statewide virtual event will feature editor Sun Yung Shin in conversation with contributors Taiyon Coleman, Shannon Gibney, David Laurence Grant, Carolyn Holbrook, IBé and Andrea Jenkins. Registration is required. If you haven’t yet read the book, or you just want to read the chapters written by the contributors who will join the discussion, you can access it online here for free. One Book, One Minnesota is a project of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library.
V Thursday (Aug. 20) starting at 7 p.m. online: Walker Art Center: Virtual Sounds for Silents. The Walker’s popular annual program – silent films from its Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection, screened to music commissioned from local artists – is usually experienced outdoors on a crowded Walker hillside under the stars. Sad for us, we can’t gather this year, but we can watch the films and hear the music. The composers and performers are Beatrix* Jar, Andrew Broder, Lady Midnight, Cody McKinney and Dameun Strange. The pairing of films with new music is always surprising and enjoyable. If we had to pick a favorite this year, it would be a tie: Rock Ross’ film “Stupor Mundi,” soundtrack by Dameun Strange, and Tom DeBiaso’s “Head,” soundtrack by Andrew Broder. Watch free tonight or anytime after until 5 p.m. on Sept. 8. FMI and link. Contains mature content.
L Saturday (Aug. 22) at 7 p.m. at the Maple Grove Town Green Bandshell in Maple Grove: 180th Anniversary of Tchaikovsky Concert and Dance Performance. The year 2020 isn’t just Beethoven’s 250th birthday anniversary. It’s also Tchaikovsky’s 180th. Presented by the Rubinstein Music Academy, this live, open-air concert in honor of the Russian composer will feature many of his greatest hits (excerpts from “Swan Lake” and “Nutcracker,” from the First Piano Concerto and Piano Trio, from the opera “Eugene Onegin” and more) performed by a galaxy of musicians: Minnesota Orchestra associate principal cello Silver Ainomäe; Denis Evstuhin, pianist and music curator at the Museum of Russian Art; soprano Mlada Khudoley; violist Anne Ainomäe; violinist Natalia Moiseeva; pianist Anton Melnichenko. Dancers from the Minnesota Ballet Theatre & School will perform. COVID-19 safety rules apply: limited tickets, spaced seating, face coverings required. FMI and tickets ($10/$15/$20).