Museums adjust to provide safe experiences

ContributedA masked Cardiff Giant greets visitors to The Farmers’ Museum in this June photo.

With the late June start of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Phase IV, businesses, restaurants and museums began reopening. Representatives from regional museums said, after introducing pandemic-approved protocols, they’re pleased to be back.

Jon Shestakofsky, vice president of communications and education with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, said the 25 Main St. museum shuttered from March 15 through June 26.

“During those three-plus months … it was a time for the staff to come together and put together a plan,” he said. “What came out was a comprehensive health and safety plan that followed the CDC and state of New York guidelines. There are a number of different features in place now to keep people safe in these types of environments.

“It was months of internal conversations and walkthroughs with health experts and then implementing,” he said, “but it was an amazing team effort.”

Changes, Shestakofsky said, include “obvious things, like the wearing of masks,” and more creative approaches, such as increasing interactivity.

“All staff and all visitors wear masks,” he said, “and we’ve installed clear (plastic) shields at any points of contact. Other things we based on the flow of traffic, but the big thing is our capacity limit, at 25%. Because of that, we’ve moved to a timed admission ticket and that helps in a few ways: it alleviates lines forming … and provides a more staggered flow into the museum to help groups stay distanced.

Shestakofsky said some aspects of the museum, such as its two theaters and all in-person programming, have been benched, though launch of the Starting Nine Experience coincided with reopening.

“(It’s) a great new self-guided tour,” he said. “When you go in, you can ask for your team’s nine must-see artifacts … and find the pieces that most resonate with you and your particular team, all the way from the start of baseball to contemporary baseball.” According to a press release, each Major League team is represented in the experience.

Daily attendance, Shestakofsky said, has been “in the 200 to 400 range.” Without the influx of summertime tourists, he said, visitors have been primarily regional.

“Capacity is obviously different,” he said. “During a normal summer day, we’d be in the 2,000-plus range.”

Visitors’ response, Shestakofsky said, has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Todd Kenyon, director of marketing with the Fenimore Art Museum and The Farmer’s Museum said, though both Cooperstown sites close seasonally, they, too, were impacted by the shutdown.

“We closed on Dec. 31 and planned on opening April 1, but knew in March that that wouldn’t happen,” he said. Both reopened on July 3.

Kenyon said his staff also used the time to vet new safety protocols.

“We followed the state guidelines and … we had a team from Bassett Hospital come in and, once everything was in place, walk through both museums and make sure everything was up to snuff or better,” he said.

A the Fenimore, at 5798 State Highway 80 just outside the village of Cooperstown, Kenyon said, that meant mask-wearing, increased signage and controlling foot traffic.

“We wanted to make sure there were no bottlenecks, so we have directional signage,” he said. “When people go in, they go in one direction … and we have a limit to the number of people in certain galleries and in the museum. (That number) is 125, and that includes employees, so about 100 visitors.”

The Fenimore, Kenyon said, has four exhibits open and has seen “about 50 to 60 (visitors) a day.”

“We don’t have our highlight exhibits; we moved Ansel Adams and Keith Haring to next summer,” he said, “so I think 50 is a good number. Any comments we get are positive, mostly regarding how well set up for safety we are and people appreciating that the museum is open again.”

All Fenimore programming, Kenyon said, such as Art by the Lake, is canceled or happening virtually through late August.

The Fenimore Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, visit fenimoreartmuseum.org.

Because The Farmers’ Museum, at 5775 State Highway 80 just outside the village of Cooperstown, is largely outdoors, Kenyon said, visits are easygoing. Farmers’ Museum capacity, he said, is 350, including staff.

“We do require people to wear face masks at the farm, because you have to go in at the main barn, but then you’re immediately outdoors,” he said. “Once outdoors, as long as you’re social distancing, you don’t have to wear a mask.”

All Farmers’ Museum buildings are closed to the public, Kenyon said, with interpreters working outside. The museum’s antique carousel, he said, is also closed, though reduced admission rates reflect that.

“On an average day (in a non-pandemic year), depending on the weather, you might get 100 to 200 people,” he said, “and we’re in the 150 range.”

Kenyon said, by reducing admission rates and encouraging visitors to picnic on the grounds, The Farmers’ Museum is offering fun for families, especially.

“We just wanted to give people a place to go and make it affordable,” he said. “People are glad we’re open and that they have a place to take the kids where it feels safe.”

The Farmers’ Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, visit farmersmuseum.org.

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