‘The goal is to balance access and safety’: MIA opens Thursday, with safety measures in place

The galleries and hallways have been quiet and dark.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art, or MIA for short, has been closed since March 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, the institute will open its doors again—with precautions.

Walker Art Center, MIA reopen doors to general public

“For us, the goal is to balance access and safety,” Director Katie Luber said. “We’re asking people to social distance while they’re here.”

The sound of an electric drill echoed across the lobby, as a workman installed Plexiglas at a front information counter. Another worker was busily putting down tape on the floor, to show distancing guidelines. A man with a vacuum cleaner and a duster was cleaning off frames around art pieces.

“It’s an enormous challenge to think about running a museum, which is predicated on the idea that we bring people and art together,” Luber said. “When visitors come to the museum tomorrow, they’ll be able to have interaction with our staff that will keep both sides safe.”

The institute typically hosts about 800,000 visitors a year.

Already, Thursday’s opening is at maximum attendance with 810 people reserving free tickets online.

A spokesperson said more than 1,500 free general admission tickets have been reserved for the next three weeks.

Museum guidelines say 30 people will be allowed in every 15 minutes, with no more than 250 inside at any given time.

“We know that people need their artistic fix,” Luber explained. “We know there are people who need to have a chance to commune with the great art."

The pandemic, which forced the institute to close for four months, has also taken a financial toll. Twenty-two employees were laid off, and 17 others signed severance agreements.

More than 200 workers remain on the payroll.

And, in a sign of the times, for months, art lovers have had to go online to see these works. The MIA website had 61,655 users and 163,184 page views in the last month.

"What do you think Van Gogh would think of this?” Luber was asked. “I think Van Gogh would think this is crazy. I don’t know what Van Gogh would think,” she smiled.

Luber emphasized MIA is taking visitor safety very seriously.

The museum store, for example, is limited to 20 visitors—and you can’t actually eat your food there.

Instead, patrons are asked to dine in the lobby area or outside.

Other safety measures include:

  • Mandated mask use
  • Available sanitizer
  • Floor stickers to emphasize safety distancing and one-way walking routes
  • One-way elevators and stairs
  • No-touch bathrooms

"We’re striving for a truly touchless experience,” Luber said. “We have taken any touchless digital devices out of the galleries. We used to have some iPads in galleries that were ways for people to have a deeper experience with the artwork. They’re no longer available at this time.”

MIA will be open Thursdays through Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will also be special hours on Thursdays for those susceptible to health problems, from 10 a.m. until noon.

Walker Art Center will also open Thursday, at 11 a.m., with similar safety measures.

For these institutions, there is a delicate balance, amid all the artworks.

A reopening and renewal, while keeping art-starved visitors safe.

"Art is solace,” Luber said. “But it’s also a chance to reflect and think about the kinds of issues we all face as human beings, living on this earth together."