After six lonely months, two South Florida art museums reopen this week, welcoming the public back into their colorful galleries to feast their eyes and nourish their souls.
Both the Bass in Miami Beach and NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale closed their doors in March as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold. Now, with local cases declining and new safety measures in place, NSU Art Museum relaunches on Tuesday, September 15, with the Bass following suit on Wednesday, September 16.
Like so many other businesses and cultural institutions, both museums had to pivot to virtual platforms in place of on-site experiences during the mandatory shutdown. The same week it was forced to close, the Bass launched the [Virtual] Bass, rolling out online resources including education programs and lesson plans, virtual reality tours of past exhibitions, livestreamed talks, virtual exhibitions, and video interviews with exhibiting artists.
"Our Virtual Art Camps sold out and were incredibly well received by parents, including registrants from all over the country," says Julia Rudo, a representative from the Bass.
By May, NSU Art Museum had debuted its online catalog, providing unprecedented access to the museum's collection. Its website has since become a hub for an array of new virtual art resources and programs, including virtual studio visits with artists, art-history talks, 360-degree virtual tours of current exhibitions, at-home art activities, and free virtual art "field trips" for public schools and families.
And they're still adding new features, says Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator at NSU Art Museum. The team has seen a 77 percent increase in new visitors to its website since launching virtual programming.
"There is clearly a huge desire to experience art in person," Clearwater says, citing the enthusiastic response from the community since the museum announced its reopening.
During the closure, NSU Art Museum froze hiring and reduced regular staff hours to avoid layoffs.
"Local freelance art handlers who install exhibitions, most of whom are artists, were particularly impacted by the closure of local museums and galleries. We applied for CARES Act funding to Broward Division of Cultural Affairs, which provided funding for us to hire them for projects," Clearwater says.
Through fundraising and support from members, the museum was also able to extend its current popular exhibitions, although some programs were postponed.
At the Bass, three exhibitions scheduled to open in May 2020, as well as additional shows for the fall, were postponed and will be rescheduled in the coming year.
For now, visitors can expect to see new safety policies, including adjusted hours and capacity restrictions. Until further notice, the Bass will operate at ten percent capacity, with only 25 visitors permitted inside the museum at a time. All visitors and personnel will be subject to a touchless temperature check upon entry, and a limited menu of to-go items will be offered from the café. The museum's adjusted hours are Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
NSU Art Museum's capacity is limited to 25 percent at all times, and the café will be open for to-go and outdoor dining only. Several interactive works in exhibitions have been temporarily modified or closed to comply with health and safety guidelines. Museum hours remain Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
At both museums, expect to follow similar CDC-mandated safety protocols, including mandatory face coverings for anyone over the age of two and six-foot social distancing, along with hand-sanitizing stations and enhanced sanitization procedures at the facility.
New exhibitions at the Bass include "Art Outside," "The Willfulness of Objects," and "Open Storage." The museum is also reopening with Mickalene Thomas' "Better Nights," which opened last year during Art Basel Miami Beach, and has been extended to January 31, 2021.
"We hope that the works on view bring joy and respite to our community and that our programming, even virtually, fosters meaningful connection," Rudo says, noting that the works of more than 100 artists will be on view when the museum reopens.
As part of the museum's reopening, artist Carlos Amorales collaborated with designer Janet Martínez to design reusable facemasks, which will be available to guests for free with the purchase of admission (while supplies last).
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NSU Art Museum has four exhibitions currently on view, including "Happy!" which explores the pursuit of happiness by contemporary artists; "I Paint My Reality: Surrealism in Latin America;" "Transitions and Transformations;" and an exhibition of the museum's permanent collection of early American modernist William Glackens.
"These exhibitions were very popular before we closed, and our audience is eager for us to reopen on September 15," Clearwater says.
The Bass. 2100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7530; thebass.org. Wednesday through Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; 954-525-5500; nsuartmuseum.org. Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 5 p.m.