September 8th, 2020 | By Alex De Vore
In the early weeks of the pandemic, there was a small part of me that said, “Hey, man, this is actually kind of a good chance to rest up a little bit.” Don’t get me wrong—I was terrified, people I knew absolutely died from the virus and I still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have retained my job. And yet, that little part of me remained, telling me things like “Your life isn’t going to change that much.”
After the novelty of working in pajama pants wore off, however, the first thing that struck me on a deeply emotional level (y’know, outside of the aforementioned deaths) was not being in museums and galleries all the time. Turns out I love art, and talking to the people who make it, curate it, hang it, philosophize about it, etc. is a major part of my mental well-being (and ask anyone—I need all the help I can get).
And so I waited. For weeks. And months. I kept thinking we’d be back in the museums soon. Nope. And it started to hurt. But then, places like the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art started creating virtual exhibits (huge shoutout to Winoka Yepa, Diné, over there, whose digital recreation of the museum’s Indigenous Futurisms show inside the ArtSteps app led the way for other institutions to jump into the virtual sphere) and other spots like the New Mexico Museum of Art started curating shows on Instagram (shoutout to curator Jana Gottshalk, among others, for making the @newmexicoartmuseum account extra worth following). The Museum of International Folk Art upped its downloadable resources and even offered youths free art kits and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian hosted virtual conversations with artists.
Then, last month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced museums could finally reopen—albeit at 25% capacity based on fire marshal restrictions, and all seemed like it would be well again. Our state COVID-19 numbers are shrinking, (most) people are happily wearing masks to protect each other; it’s time.
For El Rancho de las Golondrinas, the reopening is a no-brainer. Much of the living history museum exists outdoors, and in the waning weeks of summer, those looking to get out of the house need look no further.
“We’re such a vast property,” says Director of Development Jackie Camborde. “You can come in, take a lovely walk, walk along the acequia, picnic on the grounds—just get out in nature. We’re putting it in all our ads: 200 acres of safe social distancing!”
Golondrinas reopens Wednesday, Sept. 9, and Camborde says ticketing will be broken up into sessions that run just under three hours. Maintenance staff is set to deep clean any surfaces between those sessions and no interior sections of the museum will open just yet.
The Santa Fe Children’s Museum is embracing a similar outdoor deal with its garden and outdoor play space open on weekends for 90-minute sessions.
“We all need time to play in nature, and the Children’s Museum garden provides just that,” Executive Director Susan Lynn tells SFR. “We have moved some of our favorite exhibits outdoors, and you can join us to make giant bubbles, engineer a new ball run, dig for bones in the sandpit, pick veggies in the community garden and much more.”
The Children’s Museum is also opening enrollment for Wee Adventures and Maker Monday workshops this week, and it continues to offer virtual field trips through its website.
Downtown, museum reopenings are chugging along as well. At the New Mexico Museum of Art, Head of Curatorial Affairs Merry Scully says an exact reopening date isn’t known just yet, but staff is training up in safety measures while exhibits that opened shortly before the pandemic, such as the local-centric Alcoves with Todd Ryan White, Debra Baxter and Amy Ellingson among others, will be extended. Additionally, she says, the museum’s newer online offerings will continue.
“What’s happened is it’s really sped up our need to extend what’s going into the digital sphere, whether that’s interviews with artists or virtual presentations on the collection, we really hit the ground running as soon as we were quarantined,” Scully adds. “And something positive might come out of this in terms of people rethinking what we do and how we spend time.”
Just up the street at MoCNA, Director Patsy Phillips also says the institution plans to continue with its virtual offerings, noting that a professional videographer will now document future shows so more people can get a closer look.
“If you have an exhibition and you don’t have a catalogue, when it closes, that’s basically it,” Phillips explains, noting that potential visitors only missed a couple things during the pandemic. “Charlene Teters’ Way of Sorrows…we had to close that show because we had a contract with artists, but that show is -online; the BFA exhibition, always a graduation show, is closed…that’s online.”
Phillips also says upcoming exhibits, such as a globe-encompassing piece focused on uranium mining’s impact on Indigenous people and communities, as well as a possible look into African American Indigenous peoples, are on the docket, and though MoCNA tends to book a couple years in advance (you know—like all museums everywhere), she expects COVID-19 will work its way into future shows in one form or another. The museum’s parent institution, for example (the Institute for American Indian Arts) hosts regular student shows in the space—and when it comes to punk rock statements based in politics, nothing beats young folks’ work.
Phillips says the museum will work around any in-person capacity issues by selling timed tickets and having touch-free hand sanitizer stations around its galleries. The timed ticketing thing is being investigated up on Museum Hill at the Museum of International Folk Art, and Executive Director Khritaan Villela tells SFR he’s excited to get back to hosting in-house guests.
“Of course, we’re nervous, and we’re doing our best to safeguard our staff,” Villela says, “but our public has really appreciated that we’re still here and continue to create content for them to enjoy.”
He can say that again. MoIFA churned out some excellent bilingual activities for kids during the pandemic—and its Yokai exhibit on Japanese demon lore that opened a few months before the world shut down is easily one of the coolest offerings Santa Fe has seen…ever.
And that’s just the tip of it all. The Wheelwright should be up and running soon, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum tells SFR it’ll open on Sept. 25, SITE Santa Fe has the new show DISPLACED and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture will surely reopen alongside its state-run contemporaries—and the Harrell House Bug Museum is even back at it with altered hours. (What? It’s definitely a museum.)
This is all to say that we might try to better appreciate our arts. No, museums aren’t perfect and no, I don’t expect everyone to get as pumped over devotional pieces on loan from the British Museum as I do (that show at the New Mexico Museum of Art has been extended to the end of the month according to Merry Scully). I do, however, think we’re lucky to have so many places staffed by so many dedicated people. Not bad at all.