New York City Museums Plan Reopenings, Even With No Official Return Date – The Wall Street Journal

The Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan is slashing its annual budget by 40% to around $9 million.

Photo: John Lamparski/SOPA Images/Zuma Press

Even though New York City museums aren’t yet permitted to open indoors because of coronavirus restrictions imposed by the state, a few are planning their returns.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage—a Living Memorial to the Holocaust, located in lower Manhattan, said Monday that it aims to open its doors again on Sept. 9. It joins institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the New-York Historical Societyand Poster House that have set reopenings for this month or next.

But since the state rescinded indoor cultural activities in the city—originally, museums were set to be part of the fourth phase of reopening that took effect throughout the five boroughs on July 20—these plans might seem like exercises in wishful thinking. Still, officials with the institutions said they remain hopeful and would like to be prepared.

“Obviously, it’s a very fluid situation,” said Jack Kliger, president and chief executive of the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

State officials said Monday they still didn’t have a date for when museums in the city can reopen.

“We will continue to track the data and the science, and will make a decision on reopening cultural institutions in New York City when health experts determine it is safe to do so,” a state spokesperson said.

Museums in the rest of the state have been allowed to welcome visitors again.

Officials with city museums that have set restart dates said they would take many precautions to ensure visitor safety, from limiting capacity to providing hand-sanitizing stations.

At the Museum of Jewish Heritage, plans also call for opening only three days of the week to allow time for the facility to be deep-cleaned. Previously, the museum had been open six days a week.

Mr. Kliger said museums are in a better position to safely operate than many other spaces, such as restaurants. “People can walk through a museum with a mask on. I don’t think they can eat with a mask on,” he said.

The cost of being closed for so long is starting to have a dramatic effect on museums. Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art said it was cutting 353 employees from its staff as a result of a projected shortfall of $150 million due to the pandemic. The Met has said it plans to reopen Aug. 29, pending state approval.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage is also looking at a significant financial hit, especially since the institution was seeing large numbers of visitors for a special Auschwitz exhibition at the time of its shutdown in March.

Mr. Kliger said the exhibition would now be extended to May 2021, but that couldn’t entirely make up for the loss in revenue. He added that the museum is slashing its annual budget by 40% to around $9 million.

Across the country, hundreds of museums have reopened since being shut down earlier in the year, according to Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums. Still, Ms. Lott said that some have had to shut down once again in parts of the country where virus numbers have risen.

Museums that have welcomed visitors back aren’t necessarily seeing strong attendance, since concerns about catching the virus may be keeping patrons away, Ms. Lott added. “Being open isn’t the whole answer,” she said.

Write to Charles Passy at cpassy@wsj.com

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