The Hudson River Museum reopened to the public Saturday, July 25, four and a half months after COVID-19 shut it down on March 13.
Masha Turchinsky, museum director, stated last Friday, July 31, that opening weekend was “terrific. Everybody followed the rules … there was not one word of dissent.”
She was gratified to discover how much the museum means to people.
“Many people were baring their souls to me in the galleries,” she recounted. “One couple who came up from New York City said they hadn’t had an art experience in months; they were on the verge of tears.
“These reactions were unprompted,” she continued. “I walked up to welcome people back, and people offered to me that they were very emotional. They felt compelled to tell me what drew them to the museum. People said they were drawn to having a live art experience… they wanted to be back in a beautiful setting, to see beautiful work, and have a joyful experience. It was really something.”
For a public institution to follow protective measures for visitors and staff isn’t easy, but the museum was prepared. Patrons are required to reserve 90-minute time slots, between noon and 4 p.m., and 40 at a time are permitted inside the museum. Through Sept. 19, there will also be 5-7 p.m. slot on Saturdays.
Mask-wearing and social distancing of 6 feet are de rigueur, touchless hand sanitizer stations are provided, and gallery traffic is one-way.
During the closure, the museum’s HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system was inspected, and the air-filtration system improved by cleaning ducts and upgrading and/or replacing filters.
Exhibits that were in place in March will continue beyond their scheduled end date. Derrick Adams’ “Buoyant” will run through Aug. 23, while his “We Came to Party and Plan” and “Collection Spotlight” will remain through Oct. 18.
“Self in the City: Highlights from the Collections of the HRM and Art Bridges” will close after this Sunday, Aug. 9. Frances Hynes’ “Constellations” is on exhibit through Jan. 10, 2021.
The museum’s planetarium, Glenview mansion, Joyce Greene Education Center and Hudson Riverama gallery will reopen at a later date.
The Summer Amphitheater Series is offering free musical performances every weekend from August through September. Though the outdoor space can accommodate an audience of 450, the museum will seat 50, per state guidelines. Families can sit together in their own space (pods). Even the performers will observe social distancing onstage.
While the museum was on hiatus, its staff “pivoted,” according to Turchinsky. They developed new ways to connect with the public, such as a “Museum at Home” and virtual programming, which will continue. She cited planetarium manager Marc Taylor, who created simulation experiences and used livestreaming on Zoom and Facebook. Children enjoyed virtual programs about Mars, the moon, the planets, constellations and spacecraft.
The museum is proceeding with special events — in digital format. It celebrated Earth Day, organized “Unity in Diversity,” a community art project that will result in an online mural, and will hold its annual Summer Splash Gala online on Aug. 13.
The upside to operating as a virtual museum, Turchinsky noted, is that it can invite people from anywhere in the world to “attend” the free gala, comprising a live broadcast, art auction (bidding continues through Aug. 14), raffle, musical performance and remarks by honorees.
Virtual arts and educational programming sometimes attract 1,000 international viewers, according to Turchinsky. For example, a conversation between Adams, in Brooklyn, and historian Alison Rose Jefferson, in Los Angeles, as well as a lecture by historian Gretchen Sorin, author of “Driving While Black,” were popular events.
Programming is both synchronous and asynchronous, so people can sign into an art workshop on the museum website or watch it on YouTube at any time. On Instagram, the museum has more than 6,000 followers.
To replace school trips, the museum is creating customized virtual visits for teachers, classes and parents who are homeschooling. It’s also continuing its junior docent program, which is now in its 25th year.
Like many cultural institutions, the Hudson River Museum may not be able to recoup its financial losses. The institution is still tallying the decrease in revenue from individual admission fees, school trips and private events, according to Turchinsky.
“Have I had many sleepless nights? Yes,” she acknowledged. “But did I ever think this is the end of the Hudson River Museum? No. We are far more enduring than that … Whatever happens, it cannot be the museum that closed.”