Get Visual is the proud recipient of a grant from The Christos N. Apostle Charitable Trust

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Closing museums now is the wrong move

A view of the Smithsonian Museum before the pandemic

Frustration. Disappointment. Perplexity. These are a few of the emotions I experienced after reading a Washington Post report that the Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art are set to close due to a recent increase in the number of COVID cases in the Washington, D.C., region.

One unaddressed question arises: Who’s getting COVID from visiting a museum? (Or, even less likely, at a zoo – yes, the National Zoo is part of the Smithsonian’s organization and will also close.) Since the beginning of the pandemic, as essential businesses including big-box grocery and hardware stores remained open, I’ve asked why museums should be barred from opening, when they typically attract much smaller crowds than those stores (especially with no foreign visitors coming in).

And, eventually, starting in late June, the museums were released from forced closure. The Smithsonian reopened its seven museums in stages beginning in July, and they have recorded about a half-million visits since – a fraction of their normal traffic. But now, despite what is obviously a low-risk scenario with a big upside (after all, who among us doesn’t need some nice, uplifting distraction like a museum or a zoo right now?), the great minds that lead that institution concluded “that caution needed to prevail to protect our visitors and staff.”

I wonder whether those leaders are also advising their staff to wear helmets while bicycling, to drive defensively, and to avoid murder hornets while they’re at it.

National Gallery of Art Director Kaywin Feldman admitted, “It can’t help but feel like a step backward.” No kidding! It’s definitely a step backward, and for no good reason.

By now, we all have seen plenty of evidence that shows which activities are spreading the virus: Close, sustained, personal contact - usually within families; indoor gatherings where people talk a lot and loudly (as in bars); tightly packed outdoor circumstances (like, you know, pro-Trump rallies); or any close contact while not wearing masks. Otherwise, transmission is very rare.

All the museum administrators need to do for everyone within their purview to remain safe is what they’ve already been doing: Limit attendance, observe social distancing, and wear masks.

To make decisions based on an overabundance of caution sends the wrong message: Be afraid, shut down, quit living. The right message is this: Wear a mask, maintain distance, and enjoy life as much as possible - which includes going out and doing other very dangerous things, like riding a bicycle, driving in a car, or walking in the woods (where the hornets may live).

Note: The above quotes were taken from a report published by The Washington Post on Friday, Nov. 30.


Roger Owen Green said...

I've been a founding member of the AfrAm museum. I've never been there, but my teenaged daughter has been there twice, inc Feb 2020.

david brickman said...

It's been on my list for some time - if I can get to D.C. ... how did the lydster like it?

John Rowen said...

David: That is a well-reasoned analysis of how to safely keep museums going without harming patrons. I wonder if part of the reason for the closings is liability. It's sad if it is. Hope you got a big museum fix to tide you over until things get better again.

david brickman said...

Thanks, John - even if I get enough museum exposure, it bothers me that others won't, and for no good reason. Liability? I haven't heard it mentioned. If the government says a business can be open, and they follow the guidelines, the liability would be on the government. I think museum directors just tend to be very cautious by nature, but I feel these times call for boldness, rather than basing decisions on irrational fear. We can all benefit if we just follow the science!