On this week's "Arts News" our guest is Nick Nelson, Director of the Springfield Art Museum. The Art Museum. like all other businesses or organizations deemed "non-essential," had to close its doors to the public some six weeks ago to help stop the spread of COVID-19. It remains closed, even though the local stay-at-home order has been lifted, said Nelson.
"It's all dependent on the orders that are put out by the city and county. So currently, certain businesses are still ordered to be closed--museums being one of them--so we're abiding by that. I think this current order runs through the end of May. So we're looking at a target date of June 9th to open. But, of course, that's really going to be dependent on what the orders say as we move through this public health crisis."
Art Museum personnel currently are preparing for re-opening, said Nelson. "First of all, a lot of cleaning and sanitization. We are going room-by room, space-by-space cleaning and sanitizing the Museum; preparing the Museum with things like hand sanitizer stations; sneeze guards for our front desk; masks, gloves and other things for employees; and how we're going to move people through the space once we do open. We're coming up with this plan with this (June 9) target date so we have kind of an idea when we need to get things done."
Nick Nelson and his staff are proceeding cautiously. "When we started this whole thing, we sat down and came up with a list of priorities for the Museum. The top of that priority list is the health and safety of our staff, visitors, and community. And (we've) really been looking to the Health Department and city/county leadership for guidance on what our next move will be, or when we might be able to open.
Nelson said he was stunned when he looked at the COVID-19 statistics for his former place of residence. "I think it's really important to think about the public health concerns here. I moved here almost eight years ago from Albany, Georgia. And it you look it up in the news, it's been a place that's been particularly hard-hit with this virus." Albany's most recent (2018) population figure, according to U.S. Census estimates, is just over 75,000. As of May 7, the number of Coronavirus cases in Dougherty County, Georgia, where Albany is located, was 1,480, with 114 deaths. (During our interview Nick Nelson quoted figures off the top of his head, and his numbers were pretty close to what I found online.) Compare that to 103 total cases and eight deaths in Greene County, Missouri. "From the reports I've read," said Nelson, "it all goes back to a funeral that was held, and these sorts of mass gatherings can spread it. So we're fortunate that we haven't had that kind of impact here. And I think it's up to everybody to ensure that we don't, by following these orders. So we're putting the health of the community first and being very cautious in how we proceed."
Luckily for the Springfield Art Museum, it doesn't have to rely on admission charges for revenue. "Yes, that's correct," said Nick Nelson, "and a lot of our programming is free"--including regular admission to the Museum galleries. "I will say that we do have programming that has fees, like our Art Camp and art classes. And we also take donations from our donation box. Obviously, if there's nobody walking in the door, we don't get those donations. So we are dealing with some adjustments in terms of our revenue. But we are very fortunate that we're not relying on admission charges or ticket sales, unlike other museums, or some other non-profits that are, unfortunately, taking a much bigger hit."
The Springfield Art Museum's tentative re-opening date of Tuesday, June 9, is only three days past the originally-scheduled opening of what is probably the Museum's most important exhibition the year, the annual "Watercolor U.S.A." show. Museum Director Nick Nelson said his staff is working on getting the exhibit installed. "We had to make some adjustments to our exhibition schedule, but Watercolor U.S.A. was already on its way. So we were moving forward with the installation whether we were open or not--and we're currently, right now, working on the installation. And so, it will be up and open." However, the Museum has cancelled the opening reception and will instead do a closing reception only, scheduled for Friday August 14th at 5:30pm--"hopefully," said Nelson. "I imagine when we open--if we are able to open at the beginning of June as we plan--there will probably be some limitations on the occupancy of the Museum. I don't have that (information) yet, but obviously we are keeping up with what's happening in our community and adjusting to those orders as they come out."
Nelson concluded by reminding KSMU listeners that the Museum's website, www.sgfmuseum.org, "is a great source of information for programming at the Museum, cancellations, and what's coming up next. So I encourage people to visit that website."
In a press release earlier this week, the Springfield Art Museum announced the winners of various cash awards associated with Watercolor U.S.A., including the Kenneth M. Shuck Memorial $3,000 Cash Award, which went to Fort Worth, Texas artist Laurin McCracken for his entry, "Still Life With Silver."