Minnesota museums preparing to reopen

After being closed for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, Minnesota museums are reopening with precautions.

The Museum of Russian Art is opening its doors Monday morning.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art and Walker Art Center are scheduled to open for visitors on July 16.

"We had to put together a COVID-19 preparedness plan," said Mark Meister, the executive director of the Museum of Russian Art. "At this point, people are used to the protocols, because they've been living with them since March. This will be just another aspect of their lives."

Safe-distancing floor stickers, Plexiglas dividers, mandatory masks and readily available hand sanitizer, all part of the new normal for museums, including this one.

"We will have a rule of 6 feet of distance between two people who are viewing this exhibition," Masha Zavialova, a museum curator, said.  

On Monday, the museum will unveil a new exhibition of 37 Soviet-era paintings.

Visitors will be able to look, but not too closely.

Directional and viewing station signs are to be installed on the main floor this weekend.

"They will be like feet in circles on the floor," Zavialova said. "So they will know where to stand, looking at these paintings."

The museum won't have typical audio tours like other museums.

Instead, you'll use your phone to dial a certain number, and then each individual painting has a number of its own.

"We're not going to have anything that's touchable," Zavialova declared. "No headphones."

But there will big pieces, including the largest painting in the group, called "The Anthem of People's Love," commissioned to honor Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's 70th birthday.

Museum officials said the 12-foot by 19-foot artwork has traveled from Ukraine to Italy, Canada and the U.S.

It had been stored rolled up for 20 years, wrapped around what looks like a giant paper towel tube.

The painting had to be stretched, stitched up in places and cleaned before it could put on display.

"It arrived to the museum rolled on a roll," Zavialova explained. "It was never stretched in this country. We don't have walls big enough to display this painting, so there were different options how to show it. We decided to suspend it from the mezzanine level."

"The Anthem" piece is the largest painting ever displayed at the museum.

Museum staffers were actually prepared to open the exhibition on April 4, but then came the state's "stay at home" order amid the pandemic.

Employees returned just last week; the museum has 12 employees and 60 volunteers.

"We're taking all the precautions," Meister said. "Obviously, staff and volunteers are instructed to not come to work if they feel ill. If someone does become ill with COVID-19, then everyone will be tested."

There are other safety protocols being put into place.

Elevator use will be limited to individuals or family members. Restrooms will have no-touch features. Visitors picking up guides and brochures will be asked to not return them.

In addition, the museum is limiting visits to one-quarter normal capacity, about 60 people.

Typically, there are up to 100 visitors on weekdays and twice that on weekends.

But during special exhibits, this church-turned-museum has had 900 visitors.

Those arriving will be asked to sign-in with their names, email and phone numbers for contract tracing, if needed.

"They know the drill right now," Meister said. "Keep your social distancing. Dealing with people behind Plexiglas is not unusual. Try not to touch things."

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

Both Zavialova and Meister said they're excited about the reopening.

"It's kind of surreal to know that this exhibition has been sitting here since March 27th, and no-one's been able to see it," he said. "We're just trying to do everything possible to make it a good experience, with social distancing, with the appropriate number of people in the facility at any one time."