After months of hanging in isolated silence, the paintings, drawings and sculptures of the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College are about to have admirers again. The museum announced this week that it would reopen on Sept. 8, more than five months after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be a cautious reopening, with limited numbers of visitors allowed at a time and procedures in place to protect them, but Alex Rich, executive director and chief curator of the museum, said the museum staff has planned carefully to welcome the public again.

“We’ve been very conscious to have the reopening at the moment when we had all the protocols ready,” he said Thursday. “We feel very confident we’ve created an essential form of opening that will provide comfort and reassurance to our visitors.”

Among the measures the museum are taking:

  • No more than 25 visitors will be allowed in the two main galleries per hour. In order to ensure that the capacity limit is observed, the museum is encouraging visitors to make reservations, which can be done online, to guarantee a spot. Walk-ins will be permitted, but only if the museum is below capacity and there are no pending reservations.
  • Visitors will be required to wear a mask and observe social distancing.
  • Visitors also will have their temperature checked as they enter, and only those whose temperature registers below 100.4 degrees will be allowed in. They will be asked a few screening questions before being allowed into the galleries or the museum shop.

The reopening is being phased, with patrons who hold memberships allowed into the galleries starting next week, two weeks before the public opening.

“Our members are the ones who have truly sustained us. This is a reward for them,” Rich said.

As far as what visitors can expect to see, for the first month it will be as if nothing has changed since March. The main exhibitions on display when the museum closed – “Music and Dance in Painting of the Dutch Golden Age” and “A Brush with HerStory: The Paintings of Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso” – have remained in place and will continue for several weeks.

“We’re grateful to the lenders to allow us to extend the exhibitions, which are among the best we’ve ever had,” Rich said.

Planning future exhibitions has been trickier, given the global disruptions caused by the pandemic. Rich said his staff has managed to put together a strong season of exhibitions, including one featuring the art of Parisian golden-age painter and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. There will also be a new gallery dedicated to art from Africa and Oceania.

Unlike live-performance organizations, a museum can better manage socially distanced visitors, and the Polk Museum is the first major arts group in Lakeland to resume something like a normal schedule. However, Rich said it has been a strain to maintain a functioning organization. The museum canceled its main fundraising event of the year, Mayfaire-by-the-Lake, and in May, Rich said he anticipated “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in lost revenue.

“We are pulling through,” he said this week. “We are in need of more money than we have in the bank at the moment. We’re managing to make it through what funding we have.”

If there is a silver lining in the months the museum was closed, Rich said, it forced the museum staff to come up with alternative programs that could be done virtually, an effort he pronounced a great success.

“I’m impressed with how innovative they have been. They made the museum present to the public as much as possible. It pushed us into the 21st century,” he said. “There is a great new sense of motivation to make the museum better and better every day. It’s been a revitalizing period.”


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