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L.A. museums were reopening. Now they’re re-closing

The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens
The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens re-opened outdoor spaces to the public Wednesday.
(Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles Times)

Just as Los Angeles museums were beginning to reopen, an alarming surge in coronavirus cases and a new order from Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday have forced several institutions to close once again.

Newsom ordered indoor venues such as museums, restaurant dining rooms, bars and movie theaters in 19 counties to close for three weeks. The restrictions apply to counties including Los Angeles, Riverside, Ventura, Orange and San Bernardino.

The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles had reopened to the public June 19, operating at half capacity but seeing a “steady” stream of visitors largely because of the Tesla Cybertruck on view, Executive Director Terry L. Karges said. With Newsom’s announcement, however, the museum closed temporarily again Wednesday evening.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered tougher restrictions on indoor activities for most of the state, marking a major step backward in the reopening and an attempt to slow an alarming rise of the coronavirus in 19 counties.

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“I think this falls under the category of being good citizens and community partners,” Karges said. “Our responsibility isn’t just to run the museum, it’s to be a good neighbor, and our efforts have been to keep the staff on the payroll and to keep them and our guests safe.”

The Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach had been planning to welcome members July 8-10, and if all went well, to reopen to the public July 15, said Solimar Salas, vice president of museum content and programming.

“Everything has been postponed as a result of today’s press conference,” Salas said Wednesday. “We’re supporting all the efforts to control this spread. But we’re back to square one. Hopefully these measures will stabilize things, hopefully we can open up later in July.”

The number of new COVID-19 cases hit a new daily high for Los Angeles County on Monday and for California on Tuesday, when the state’s daily count hit 8,610. That has forced Angelenos to brace for a different sort of July 4 holiday weekend, one in which beaches will be closed and fireworks banned to help curb the spread of the virus.

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LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in downtown L.A. initially had planned to reopen July 6. Then on Monday, in response to the rising COVID cases, it pushed reopening to July 13, giving the organization more time to review safety measures. After the governor’s announcement Wednesday, LA Plaza delayed reopening again, this time for at least three weeks, said marketing and communications director Abelardo de la Peña Jr., who called reopening “a moving target.”

“It depends on the guidelines, the rates of infection, hospitalization, what the data shows us,” De la Peña said. “It’s disappointing, but we’ve been doing virtual programming and that’s kept us in touch with our community. We don’t mind being cautious because our concern is for our community and our employees first and foremost.”

The Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, however, is welcoming visitors to its outdoor areas. It reopened gardens to the public Wednesday, following a reopening for members June 17. Attendance has been about 1,500 people a day, about a third of capacity, to enforce social distancing. Safety measures have included temperature checks for guests and one-way garden paths to avoid congestion.

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“It’s hugely concerning that the numbers are going up. The next two weeks will tell us a lot,” said Susan Turner-Lowe, vice president of communications and marketing. “But because we’re an outdoor venue, and because the county is encouraging folks to be outdoors rather than indoors, and because we’re providing for a very safe experience adhering to — and exceeding — county protocols, we feel good about offering people a place to go during these times.”

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles had been looking forward to by-appointment visits on Tuesday, with a maximum of 10 guests at any given time. The current exhibitions, “Ann Greene Kelly” and “Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison,” were originally supposed to close in June, and the museum negotiated loan extensions through July 19 — “at which point we have to deinstall, because many of the works are committed elsewhere,” said Executive Director Anne Ellegood. “For museums to delay exhibitions like this, it’s really complex. You have all these balls in the air around borrowing works, and loan agreements, and dozens of people have to agree to any changes.”

Newsom’s three-week closure means the shows won’t reopen after all.

“It’s incredibly disappointing,” Ellegood said. “Ann Greene Kelly’s work will be in ‘Made in L.A.’ [the biennial at the Hammer Museum and the Huntington] this fall, but the Ree Morton show — we were the last venue on the tour. We have to do what’s necessary to keep people safe, but it’s particularly heartbreaking.”

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Because of the uncertainty that lies ahead, many museums have set reopening dates farther down the line, or they haven’t committed to one at all.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art said it hopes to reopen this summer but hasn’t specified a date. The Museum of Contemporary Art has not announced a timeline.

The Broad museum had said it was planning a phased reopening for midsummer but hasn’t announced dates. Nor has the Getty Center in Brentwood and Getty Villa in Malibu, which are aiming for phased reopenings in August.

“We are in close contact with county health officials,” Lisa Lapin, the Getty’s vice president of communications, said via email of the rising COVID count, “and will be following their guidance in the days and weeks to come, and we will closely follow the evolving situation.”

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The Hammer Museum in Westwood isn’t planning to reopen until September — at which point it will stage “Made in L.A.” A representative said those reopening plans are still being developed.

The ICA LA’s Ellegood echoed the frustrations of so many museum leaders.

“Every time you set a date, or think you have a plan, you’re aware it may have to change,” Ellegood said. “Woven into the situation right now is the need to be flexible and responsive. And, honestly, the biggest stress is wanting to ensure your staff and anyone you welcome can remain safe.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation now supports the removal of public Confederate monuments, regardless of how old or “historic” they may be.

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The Craft Contemporary museum in L.A. is trying to remain as loose as possible, simply setting a midsummer target date.

“But now we’re watching what’s going on. We’re just waiting; the numbers are really scary,” said Executive Director Suzanne Isken. “I’d love to go out with a splash — ‘Hey, this is happening, we’re reopening!’ But I’m just treading water, I have to say.”


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