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L.A. museum visitors will need to be vaccinated. Here’s how that will work

 Lights twinkle at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures says it will accept a physical or digital vaccination card or a photo of the card.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Your latest essential museum outing accessory? Proof of vaccination.

The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday requiring proof of vaccination against COVID-19 at indoor venues — restaurants, salons, bowling alleys, movie theaters, among others, including museums.

Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the ordinance into law, an effort to “encourage more people to get the shot, and make businesses safer for workers and customers,” he said in a statement.

Are museums, most of which reopened in the spring after year-plus closures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, worried about having to turn away visitors? And how will the vetting process work, particularly at museums that use the timed ticketing model and that have guests — vaccinated and not — who made paid reservations in advance, before the ordinance?

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At the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which opened Sept. 30, weekend tickets are fully booked through mid-November and weekday slots are heavily booked through October. But the ordinance is “not a big issue at all,” said Lauren Girard, director of visitor experience. The museum, which had been selling tickets since Aug. 5, sent an email to existing ticketholders Sept. 30 about a new policy: All visitors over age 12 must be vaccinated to enter. Only “a handful” of unvaccinated people have so far reached out for refunds, Girard said, and any who show up in person will get refunds.

“Overwhelmingly, the response [to the email] has been positive. So we’re in a pretty good place,” Girard said.

As with most places surveyed for this article, the Academy Museum is checking the vaccination status of visitors the manual way: eyeballing documentation, in-person, as opposed to using an app. “That’s just easiest for people, especially those who aren’t tech savvy,” Girard said. Guests must show a physical or digital vaccine card, or a photo of the card, along with ID. In-house staff working with an outside security staffing agency do the vetting.

The low number of refunds translates into little lost revenue for the museum, where general admission is $25.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, which is free except for special exhibitions, has employed timed ticketing since reopening June 3, a pandemic precaution to cap capacity at 75%. MOCA updated its policy Sept. 30, requiring visitors ages 12 and older to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of the visit. Unlike the Academy Museum, however, MOCA releases tickets just two to three weeks in advance, and it timed the new policy so all ticketholders know about the new rule before booking.

Starting Nov. 4, MOCA will update its policy to reflect the new ordinance. Staffers are checking physical and digital vaccine cards or photos of them. Those who show up unvaccinated will be refunded.

The ordinance states that its requirements go into effect Nov. 4. But because it didn’t get enough votes to warrant as passing with “urgency” — it would need 12 votes to qualify, and the vote was 11-2 — the law won’t go into effect until a little more than a month from now, the city attorney’s office said.

Visitors with written religious or medical exemptions, according to the ordinance, may use outdoor facilities or, if there are no outdoor facilities, they may use indoor ones as long as they show a negative COVID-19 result from a test taken in the last 72 hours. Many museums said they will follow the specifics of the ordinance.

The Broad museum, which is free but also requires timed reservations, typically releases tickets for each month at the end of the preceding one. It’s revisiting its policies following the news Wednesday.

“The Broad is currently updating vaccine protocols to comply with today’s announcement,” Deputy Director Stacy Lieberman said in an emailed statement. “Prior to releasing tickets for Nov. 4 and beyond, the Broad will share information about how the museum will be checking proof of vaccination for visitors. Since reopening, we have remained committed to offering a space to discover and enjoy art safely, and we look forward to continuing to welcome visitors to enjoy the Broad.”

Although the Los Angeles County Museum of Art sits within L.A. city limits, it is awaiting direction from the county, “which so far has not required vaccines for museum visitors,” representative Jessica Youn said.

At the Getty Center in Brentwood and the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, visitor services and security staff will start checking for vaccine verification Nov. 4. “They already do a bag check at both sites, so that’s a natural point for the vaccine verification,” said museum representative Julie Jaskol. “We would look to the city for additional guidance on what kind of verification is required.”

In L.A. County, more than 61% of residents are fully vaccinated, according to Times data.

After more than 18 months of curveballs, said Assn. of Art Museum Directors President Lial Jones, museums across the U.S. are nothing if not resilient.

“We have seen across the country that different cities, counties and states have adopted different approaches to public health issues such as vaccine mandates — and we have also seen that member museums have generally adapted well to those rules, recognizing that everyone wants to keep staff and visitors safe.”


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