Smithsonian Museums and the National Zoo to Close Due to Increased Cases of Covid-19

In an official statement, the Institution announced a temporary closing of all its public facilities beginning November 23

Smithsonian locations closing November 23, 2020 include: The National Zoo, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Renwick Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the Udvar-Hazy Center. (Eric Long, Smithsonian Institution)
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The Smithsonian Institution announced today that the National Zoo along with all eight of its recently reopened museums will once again close their doors. The Washington, D.C.-located museums include the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. In Chantilly, Virginia, the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center will also close.

All eight will receive visitors through the weekend and close Monday, November 23. All, except for the Renwick Gallery, currently require visitors to obtain free, timed-entry passes prior to arrival. The Hirshhorn museum’s sculpture garden and the Smithsonian gardens located around the National Mall adjacent to the Smithsonian museums will remain open.

The decision to close is based on the recent uptick in Covid-19 cases both nationally and around the region.

Officials report that while the closings are temporary, a reopening date would not be announced “due to the changing nature of the situation.” In an email to staff, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch wrote: "Our gradual, cautious approach to reopening, starting in late July, allowed us to safely welcome visitors back to eight Smithsonian facilities in fulfillment of our public service mission. However, we have always been ready and willing to take a step back when the data indicates it is necessary to do so to protect our staff and visitors."

“Museums are places for gathering,” says the Smithsonian’s spokesperson Linda St. Thomas. “And gathering in groups is not recommended by public health officials.”

This summer, the Smithsonian Institution began cautiously reopening several of its museums after a months-long closing that began March 14, 2020. A special Covid-19 response team that included expertise on health, security and infrastructure brought many new safety protocols to the museums, creating an industry standard that included guidelines on floors, one-way paths, hand-sanitizing stations, social-distancing measures and face-mask requirements for visitors ages six and older.

Information desks were staffed with high-definition monitors that provided one-on-one interactions with “virtual volunteers” standing by to field visitor questions. Visitors were required to register for free, timed-entry passes in order to carefully monitor and limit the number of people in each museum and so that contact tracing could be employed. “Museums see the Smithsonian as a leader in the field,” Elizabeth Merritt, who is vice president of Strategic Foresight at the American Alliance of Museums, told Smithsonian magazine in July. The nation’s museums often turn to the Smithsonian museums for ideas, she said.

To date, officials report that there have been no documented cases of transmission of the virus from visitor to staff, or vice versa.

Over the short period in which the museums were open, a number of acclaimed exhibitions were launched.

At the National Portrait Gallery, “Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States” featured a stunning new array of portraits (many rarely seen before) of women who have held that peculiar, unelected office. Another show “Her Story: A Century of Women Writers” dove into the backstory of women poets, essayists, novelists and journalists who have shaped the past century of American literature.

At the National Museum of the American Indian, “Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces,” opened concurrently with the unveiling of the National Native American Veterans Memorial on the grounds of the museum (visitors will still be able to view the memorial).

The Renwick Gallery’s ninth biennial invitational was entitled “Forces of Nature” and opened with breathtaking installations from artists Rowland Rickets, Lauren Fensterstock, Debora Moore and Timothy Horn offering entrancing new perspectives on the natural world.

At the National Museum of American History, an innovative team of curators took a deep dive into the activist lives of young girls across history and in the current moment with the new show “Girlhood (It’s Complicated).”

And at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the celebrated life of the revolutionary 19th-century naturalist Alexander von Humboldt was given a thorough reexamination with curator Eleanor Harvey’s groundbreaking “Alexander von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture.”

Many of the Smithsonian exhibitions feature online experiences, alongside important offerings from the Smithsonian’s team of educators. In a statement the Smithsonian offered reassurances that the situation would be closely monitored.

The Institution’s top priority is to protect the health and safety of its visitors and staff. We will use this time to reassess, monitor and explore additional risk-mitigation measures. We are closely monitoring guidance from local governments, public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visit our websites or follow the Smithsonian on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @smithsonian for updates. Visitors who had reserved timed-entry passes to visit at a future date are being contacted directly.

About Beth Py-Lieberman
Beth Py-Lieberman

Beth Py-Lieberman is the museums editor, covering exhibitions, events and happenings at the Smithsonian Institution. She has been a member of the Smithsonian team for more than two decades.

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