Arts & Entertainment

How the Tacoma Museum District is handling COVID induced closures

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak we’ve seen our community scrambling and retreating home to abide by the stay at home orders. During this time we have also witnessed undaunted closures of businesses everywhere — and this includes those residing within the Tacoma Museum District. With some of these organizations being available to the public for over 100 years, The Ledger was recently able to talk with the Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State History Museum, Foss Waterway Seaport Maritime Museum as well as the Children’s Museum to understand how they’re working through these tough times. 

Beginning in early March all museums were declared closed for business until further notice. And now, projected to open during phase three of Inslee’s plan, granted social distancing guidelines and other precautions are abided by, it’s expected we’ll be able to enter again around mid-summer, that is if everything goes accordingly.

From staff furloughs and cutting costs to event cancellations and dates being moved back on exhibit openings these museums have shown adaptability and versatility during this time. “With the world-wide disruption of business, the Museum is not immune to rapidly changing conditions,” said Hillary Ryan from the Tacoma Art Museum. 

While all in-person events and visitations have been cancelled, TAM has since been able to take some of their efforts online, “We have continued to create mission-centered digital content through our new offerings TAM at Home, which can be found on our website. In addition, about 70% of the museum’s permanent collection is available for people to view via our e-Museum platform. Not only can you learn about the artwork and artists, you can also create your own online exhibitions,” said Ryan. And not only this, but Ryan also noted “Our annual spring luncheon has been transitioned to a virtual event which will take place from May 26 to June 1,” and invited anyone interested to join. 

They’re not the only ones producing virtual events either. Usually at this time lively with field trips and private events, The Washington State History Museum now has “free downloadable curriculum and activities, an archive of history journals to read, and it is free to explore our collections via our website” says Julianna Verboort, Marketing and Communications Director of the Washington State Historical Society. Currently, their Washington Stay Home series is also providing a plethora of content to stream relating to galleries, programs, storytelling and remembrances. 

With all in-person events cancelled for the foreseeable future, Verboort says, “As far as postponing exhibitions, it is a bit like like Tetris — when you reschedule one, others need to shift to make the gallery spaces work” in order to approach this current uncertainty, she also mentioned that the WSHM plans to, “continue to grow our publicly accessible online resources and we will also prepare for re-opening under different sets of assumptions. In addition, we have begun crowd sourcing content related to this pandemic to add to our collections for future historians and researchers.” 

Also closed is Tacoma’s Maritime Museum, Foss Waterway Seaport. Executive Director, Brent Mason, expressed the struggles they’ve faced.  “I never thought that the word “pivot” would become an everyday part of our vocabulary,” said Mason. Yet, with forced modifications and adjustments they’ve done exactly that: pivot. 

Much like TAM and WSHM’s online efforts, Foss Waterway Seaport has accomodated with this, as well. , “When the schools closed and teachers moved class to online we lost all of our education programming — we developed and tested online content to determine who our market was and the kind of content they were most interested in, and then started providing,” said Mason.

And not only this, but with losses regarding to private rentals, events and construction for projects, they’ve been forced to reschedule and evaluate the best ways to approach and breach these circumstances without more unprecedented changes. “We went into ‘save’ mode by encouraging clients to move their event to later in the year and/or first part of next,” Mason said. ” However, remaining optimistic and having been in existence for over 120 years and remaining intact despite economic lows and bad weather, Mason has little to no doubt that business will recover when things begin to return to some sense of normalcy. 

Still closed, but fairly different and more interactive than the rest, Greentrike — a combination of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, preschool facilities and daycare services — has also taken a dramatic hit. Communications Manager, Maddy Mixter, expressing the tribulations during this time, indicated “COVID-19 has put a lot of pressure on our already tight margins, and we estimate a $125,000 loss per month that we are closed.” 

With less online interactive materials and more outreach focused actions, Greentrike has been able to partner with the Tacoma Public School System through the end of the school year to provide small and regulated forms of childcare for essential workers in an effort to help in any way they can. 

Being a museum focusing on interactive play and hands on experiences, re-opening will prove to be a different kind of challenge for everyone associated. But until then, Mixter is happy to share potential openings with the proper safety hazards put in place.“We are excited that The Muse: A Children’s Center, our full time childcare facility will reopen in late May with safety procedures in place, as we believe it is an essential service for those who are unable to work from home, or have alternative childcare,” said Mixter. 

Until we know for sure when phase three will arrive and we begin seeing progression toward our community re-opening, we will continue to practice safety measures and guidelines in place. And as important of a reminder as it is, Mason gave hope to the situation., “As corny as it might sound, the most important thing right now is for each of us to take care of ourselves, our loved ones and each other.  We WILL get through this…together!”