With the governor's announcement that museums and aquariums would be allowed to open again, Tracy Hall, executive director of the Catawba Science Center, found a fresh attitude last week.
“I’m great, for the first time in a while,” Hall said.
The Science Center, along with the Hickory Museum of Art and other members of the SALT Block, plans to reopen to the public Thursday, Oct. 1. The center will be open for the first time since it closed in March.
Though the SALT Block occupants are allowed to open sooner, and have been preparing, the group of organizations is delaying the opening to allow time to prepare staff, get exhibits ready and finish up projects within the museums, Hall said.
The announcement last week by Gov. Roy Cooper that North Carolina would enter Phase 2.5 of reopening from COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing museums to open, was a surprise to Hall and the other directors. They’d watched many announcements from Cooper while hoping for reopening, but they were still surprised by the news.
“We heard that they’d be making a statement but we were hearing it would center around gyms and parks but no mention of museums,” Hall said.
Jon Carfagno, executive director of the museum of art, said the official announcement brought a wave of excitement for him and his staff.
“We’re so excited that we’ve been given this opportunity,” he said. “I think everyone is coming from the standpoint that we want to put our best foot forward in this new world we’re living in. … I think everyone needs (museums) at this time but we also want to do so in a way that is safe for everyone.”
At a time when many people are stressed, stuck in their homes, disconnected from others and learning from home, museums offer much-needed relief, Carfagno said. The museum staff has been preparing for reopening by putting social-distancing measures in place and preparing more classes for children and adults to interact with the museum while staying safely distanced.
“Really, our team has been working hard to create an environment that will be both inspiring and safe. and we hope that everyone will come and visit us,” he said. “We’re excited to see everyone again.”
While the museum will be closed until Oct. 1, the Science Center is started up educational programming, such as classes and outdoor activities this week.
Between now and Oct. 1, the museums will be working out ways to keep everyone safe. The state mandates the museums can allow only 50 percent of their capacity to enter. People will also be required to wear masks and follow social-distancing guidelines. There will be stickers marking where people can stand to stay six feet apart and there will be a one-way path for visitors to follow through the museums, Hall said.
At the art museum, the art is spaced farther apart to allow for better distancing, Carfagno said.
The Science Center will have an interactive exhibit, which poses a cleaning challenge.
“We had to come up with the way we’re going to manage and clean that area and change the touchables out so we can keep everything clean,” Hall said.
Allowing museums to open is a relief for the Science Center, Hall said. With no income during the five months without visitors, the center was running out of money to buy food for its animals. While the staffers aren’t expecting a huge spike in revenue, they’re hoping people will renew memberships and look to the center for educational opportunities, especially with more people learning from home.
“We do realize we will not get the revenue we would normally get in normal conditions, especially because school groups are not coming,” Hall said. “We hope that people will consider us as a supplement to their education journey at this time or a place to visit or spend family time.”
Hall is expecting to see about 20 to 30 percent of the normal number of visitors the center sees, based on what other science centers have seen after reopening in other states, she said.
With that in mind, the center is looking for other funding sources. The science center plans to put on its annual fundraiser, which was canceled in March, virtually.
The fundraiser will kick off with a fireworks show at the Hickory Crawdads stadium, which everyone is invited to watch from the parking lot, Hall said.
“That should really be able to boost our income,” she said.
The art museum hopes to draw visitors in with new exhibits and a renovation on the second floor, Carfagno said. Though the building has been closed to the public, the staff hasn’t let up in their mission to bring art to Hickory, he said.
“This is our job and this is what we love to do. We’re grateful to be able to do it again,” Carfagno said. “We do know that engaging with great art can be an outlet for people — helping people feel better about the world around them and helping them see the world more expansively and connecting with other people — that’s the power of great art.”
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