By Jayson Dobney
***This is the first in a series that focus on the reopening of museum collections after the coronavirus lockdown. Specifically, the series considers new realities of social distancing and safety measures and their impact on musical instrument collections.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art reopened to the public at the end of August. The five-month closure was the first time since the nineteenth century that The Met had been closed for more than three days in a row. The year of 2020 is the Museum's 150th anniversary, and it is not lost on anyone that even as we mark this milestone, we are in the midst of one of the most turbulent and impactful moments in our history.
Visitors who now come to The Met will encounter a host of new changes that will feel unfamiliar. Even before someone enters the building, they are required by New York State law to have their temperature checked. Visitors are also required to wear masks at all times that they are in the building and to maintain a social distance of six feet from visitors and staff who are not in their party. The overall number of visitors to the Museum is limited to 25% of the total capacity of the building.
The Museum is also open fewer days and hours than before the pandemic. Instead of its seven day schedule, the Museum is now open only five days a week. The new hours are Thursday and Friday noon to seven, and Saturday, Sunday, and Monday 10 am to 5 pm. For the first time, advanced time-ticketing purchases are available on the museum's website, allowing visitors to skip ticketing lines and booths. However, those who decide to walk into the museum can still opt to pay for admission at booths with new precautions. Dispensers with hand sanitizer are located throughout the Museum's public spaces and galleries for visitors use.
The hours are also reduced to 10-5 Sat.-Mon. and noon-7 on Thursday and Friday. For the first time, advanced time-tickets are available allowing visitors to skip ticketing lines and booths.
Once inside, there are greatly reduced amenities for visitors. For example, all of the water fountains are closed. There are fewer restaurant options that sell primarily pre-packaged items, and visitors eat at greatly spaced out tables. The only store open is the shop on the main floor, and there are greatly-reduced merchandise options, allowing fewer displays and kiosks so that visitors can maintain social distancing. Throughout the museum, visitors will observe enhanced cleaning regimens.
Visitors will encounter a handful of smaller galleries that are either closed or allow a small number of people at one time. For popular large exhibitions, there are also limits, and lines allow visitors to wait until it is possible to enter. One space that is of interest to musical instrument lovers that is not now accessible is the Gubbio Studiolo.
The André Mertens Galleries for Musical Instruments are open to the public on a daily basis. However, visitors will realize that the Audio Guide, which features more than 70 musical examples in the galleries and that was free to the public is no longer distributed. It is a high priority of the museum to transition this content to a web-based platform that visitors can access on their phones or other devices in coming months.
The other major change that has an outsized impact on the musical instrument collection is that there are no public programs. The regularly scheduled gallery concerts have been put on indefinite hold. The daily tours for general visitors led by trained docents have also been cancelled, as have all educational tours. Curatorial lectures and programs have been moved to digital formats.
While there are significant challenges, the safety measures in place ensure that staff and visitors alike remain healthy. Most importantly, the Museum is a much needed balm for a City that has experienced some of the worst of the pandemic. The Museum can offer visitors an uplifting experience or the opportunity to find solace. In the coming months, we hope that more solutions can be found to allow for a return to regular levels of programming.
Jayson Kerr Dobney is the Frederick P. Rose Curator in Charge of the Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is also currently the president of the American Musical Instrument Society.