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Some museums reopen, some move toward reopening (it’s complicated)

ALSO: Catching up with Sheila Smith on the state of the arts.

Todd Webb, 'Untitled,’ detail from ‘Somaliland,” 1958
Todd Webb, 'Untitled,’ detail from ‘Somaliland,’ 1958, now showing at the Mia.
Todd Webb Archive

Per Gov. Tim Walz’s latest executive order, museums may reopen this week at 25 percent capacity. They won’t all reopen at once. Some won’t reopen until later this year.

Keep in mind that all museums closed very suddenly in March, then reopened in October, then closed again suddenly in November. For some, this is a bit like stopping and starting a locomotive.

For those that are reopening now or soon, COVID-19 protocols will be in place. (Wear. A. Mask.) Days and hours will be limited and, for most, timed-entry tickets will be required.

There are good reasons to visit museums now or soon: for the joy of having someplace to go, to see old favorites and make new discoveries, and the rare opportunity to take your time in a public space full of interesting things. Because of the capacity restrictions, and depending on the size of the museum, you may feel like you have the place to yourself.

Here’s what we know, in alpha order by museum.

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American Swedish Institute. The ASI will reopen Saturday, Feb. 6, with the new exhibition “Papier.” This international touring show features Swedish designer Bea Szenfeld’s paper couture (dresses, etc. made entirely from paper, worn by pop icons including Lady Gaga and Björk) and artist-author Stina Wirsén’s colorful illustrations.

The new entrance to the Bakken
Courtesy of the Bakken
The new entrance to the Bakken.
The Bakken Museum. Opens today (Tuesday, Jan. 12). On view: “Spark” (which opened in October, not long before museums closed for the second time, so it’s basically still new), “Ben Franklin’s Electricity Party,” “Mary and Her Monster,” “Keva Art and Architecture Studio.”

The Bell Museum. The Bell hopes to reopen “in late February/early March.” Spokesperson Adrienne Wiseman said in an email, “We’re meeting soon to discuss the specifics. We’re also going full-tilt into virtual programs, including virtual field trips for K-12 schools, so it’s taking us time to maximize what we offer to the widest audiences while reopening and staffing the building.” 

Hennepin History Museum. Will reopen Thursday, Feb. 4, “pending no new state-mandated closures in effect at that time.” On view: the new exhibition “Local Heroes,” which traces the long tradition of healers and caretakers in Hennepin County history.

Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). Will reopen Thursday, Jan. 28. Between now and then, several virtual events are on the calendar. These include a talk by Mia’s director and president, Katherine Luber, “Beyond Dürer: Becoming a Museum Director” this Thursday (Jan. 14) at 11 a.m. Free, with registration required. Luber had been at Mia for less than three months when COVID came to town. New and new-ish exhibitions include “Todd Webb in Africa: Outside the Frame” and “In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art.”

Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery (MAAHMG). Opens today (Tuesday, Jan. 12). On view (new): “Art is My Weapon,” curated by the founder of the organization by that name. Weapons from gun buyback programs in the Twin Cities were decommissioned and distributed to 15 Minnesota artists, who used them to make statements about gun violence in our community.

Minnesota Children’s Museum. The place for kids to play will reopen Thursday, Jan. 14. Visits are limited to two hours.

'Star Knowledge' star quilt by Gwen Westerman, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate (Dakota), 2014
Courtesy of the Minnesota History Center
'Star Knowledge' star quilt by Gwen Westerman, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate (Dakota), 2014
Minnesota History Center. Opens Thursday, Jan. 14. On view: “Our Home: Native Minnesota,” “Minnesota’s Greatest Generation,” “Weather Permitting,” “Then Now Wow.” Split Rock Lighthouse’s grounds, visitor center and museum shop, and the trading post at Mille Lacs Indian Museum will also reopen Jan. 14. All other MNHS museums and historic sites remain temporarily closed.

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Minnesota Museum of American Art (The M). The museum will remain closed through the end of its fiscal year, June 30, 2021. It will continue to offer exhibitions in its window galleries, viewable from the sidewalks at 4th and Robert streets and the skyway across Robert Street. “1.5: A Southeast Asian Diaspora Remix” is on display now. Opening Feb. 25, “Outer Experiences: Black Life in Rural and Suburban Minnesota.”

Vadim Odainik and Zoia Odainik-Samoilenko, ‘V. Lenin Makes a Speech on Red Square,’ 1960s
Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Art
Vadim Odainik and Zoia Odainik-Samoilenko, ‘V. Lenin Makes a Speech on Red Square,’ 1960s
The Museum of Russian Art (TMORA). Opened Monday, Jan. 11. On view: “Leaders and the Masses: Mega Paintings from Soviet Ukraine” and “Masquerade for New Year.”

Schubert Club Museum. The museum of music-making has not yet scheduled a specific reopening date. It has been undergoing renovations that were planned pre-COVID. Schubert Club spokesperson Kristina Gorder MacKenzie wrote in an email, “We plan to reopen for limited reservations in late spring.”

Science Museum of Minnesota. The Science Museum will remain closed to the public through February. Spokesperson Karilyn Robinson said in an email, “When the Governor called for indoor entertainment venues to close just before the holiday season to help flatten the curve, our Senior Leadership moved forward with a plan for a fifteen-week closure to help us preserve our resources and be in the best position to re-open to serve visitors in early March. As part of that plan, we are entering 2021 with a reduced staffing capacity. We hope to welcome back our temporarily laid off staff as we ramp up to reopening this spring.”

Walker Art Center. The Walker will reopen Thursday, Jan. 28. Meanwhile, you can take part in a Dance and Draw Workshop (this Thursday, Jan. 14, 7 p.m., free), take a virtual tour of the “Don’t let this be easy” exhibition (Thursday, Jan. 21, 7 p.m., free), and hear a Mack Lecture conversation between Annie Dorsen, a writer, director and MacArthur Fellow, whose practice is rooted in artificial intelligence, and WNYC Radio Lab producer Simon Adler (Wednesday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m., free).

Weisman Art Museum. The Weisman has not yet set a reopening date, in part because its iconic Frank Gehry-designed building needs some maintenance work. When it reopens, it will have a new exhibition in place: “Pressing Issues: Printmaking as Social Justice,” featuring rarely-displayed Work Progress Administration/Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) prints from the 1930s. Also opening Feb. 27: “Paper Mountains: Marsden Hartley’s Lofty Landscapes.”

Catching up with Sheila Smith

At a virtual conference of performing arts professionals last weekend, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, had good news for the arts. He said he believes that live theater and music venues could reopen “sometime in the fall of 2021.”

That will depend on how widespread the COVID vaccinations are. It will depend on whether audiences are willing to wear masks. Meanwhile, venue owners should look closely at their ventilation systems and do what they can to improve airflow.

But there it was: the hint of a light at the end of a tunnel, joining the ghost lights burning on stages.

Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (MCA), was excited to hear this.

“The crisis in the arts community is vast and terrible,” she said by phone on Monday. “Nobody can present or perform in public except for outside. It’s too cold right now to do most things. So things will continue to be shut down until this is essentially over.

Sheila Smith
Courtesy of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts
Sheila Smith
“The problem since the very beginning [of the pandemic] in March has been that nobody knows when it’s going to be over. And a lot of art stuff takes many months, if not years, in the planning. A lot of venues book things two years in advance, sometimes three. Not knowing when it could be over means you can’t even plan for the future, except in a vague way. If people have a known exit time from the COVID era, that means they can start planning, and that is huge. At that point, you can start presenting opportunities for the public.

“There will be questions still about room capacity, and I’m sure everybody will still be encouraged to wear masks when in groups. But the parameters will shift enough that we can start organizing ourselves back toward more normal activities. That would save everybody. Hopefully, everybody makes it that far, because that’s still a long way away to be financially crippled, if not shut down.”

More resources have recently become available to artists. The Minnesota Fringe is administering the Theater Emergency Relief Fund and its $1,200 individual grants for theater and dance technical and design professionals hurt by the pandemic. (You must apply by Friday, Jan. 15, so get on that now.) The State of Minnesota recently passed a COVID relief program that includes $115 million to be shared among nonprofits, nonprofit arts organizations, museums and fitness centers.

The Save Our Stages Act, part of a national COVID stimulus bill, includes $15 billion for independent venues. The PPP loan program has reopened. Unemployment benefits have been extended. “So there are multiple opportunities for organizations to find some money to help them get to next fall,” Smith said.

She expects that “the new Congress, with Biden in charge and Democrats on both sides, will put a lot of focus on supporting small businesses and individuals.”

Fauci mentioned vaccinations first in his list of requirements for reopening venues. Smith wants us to know that her mother, who’s in a care facility, “got her first shot before the New Year. She’ll get her second pretty soon, and I’m very happy about that. She has no side effects.”