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Kansas City's Arts Scene Starts To Reopen — Here's What To Know About Visiting

outside WWI Museum.jpg
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
The National WWI Museum and Memorial opened to members on June 1 and to the public on June 2, with health and safety guidelines in place.

Galleries and museums across the metro are starting to reopen after months of closures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Visitors can expect face masks, limited arrival times, and strict cleaning protocols.

Just in time for First Friday, some arts organizations will continue to offer virtual events and activities, or open by appointment. But others are starting to re-open to the public with social distancing guidelines in place.

For visitors, as well as businesses, the experience will be much different in the COVID-19 era.

“We are eager to learn and grow with our community in order to keep all of our guests, staff, and artists safe and healthy in mind and body as we begin to gather in our galleries again,” said Kansas City Artists Coalition (KCAC) executive director Marissa Starke.

KCAC, on hiatus since March 18, opens Friday with two new exhibitions, “Invisible Victims,” exploring the impact of domestic violence, and a senior thesis exhibition of two Kansas City Art Institute photography students.

National WWI Museum and Memorial
The National WWI Museum and Memorial is posting catchy signs to encourage social distance.

For now, only five visitors, plus staff, will be able to enter the galleries at a time, mask or face coverings are required (or will be supplied), hand sanitizer will be provided, social distancing will be observed, and contact information will be collected for contact tracing.

Belger Crane Yard Studios opens its doors on Friday with a new show of works by ceramic artists-in-residence called “IN/Residence.”

Only 10 visitors will be permitted at a time for the public reception. And advance reservations are required for the two available time slots: 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Or, you can join the artists for a live virtual toast via Zoom at 7:30 p.m.

Two area museums opened on Monday: The National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Johnson County Museum in Overland Park, Kansas.

Waiting to greet visitors near a field of poppies

On Wednesday morning, at the National WWI Museum and Memorial, visitors checked in with a masked attendant outside the museum.

Inside, three men, also wearing masks, stood as greeters near the glass bridge over a field of red poppies, symbolizing lives lost during World War I.

“We’re just happy to be here,” said Rick Goheen, a nine-year museum volunteer wearing a poppy mask. “We just hope more people come. There’s no reason not to come.”

visitor inside the museum.jpg
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City resident Robert West stopped by the museum to see the exhibit, "The Vietnam War: 1945-1975."

The museum reopened June 1 to members and June 2 to the general public.

“I was able to spend a little time here earlier (before the museum closed on March 16) and it’s just too much to do in one visit," said Kansas City resident Robert West, standing in "The Vietnam War: 1945 - 1975."

“So I was anxious to come back. I think it's just a marvelous exhibit.”

Creating the best, the safest experience for visitors

Museum president and CEO Matthew Naylor said a team has been working for months on reopening plans, talking to visitors and volunteers, accessing surveys, as well as consulting the latest health guidelines.

“When people arrive, they’ll see that things are a bit different,” Naylor said. “We want to be sure to create the best experience, the safest experience for our visitors.”

The museum offers two timed sessions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, limiting numbers to abide by the city’s occupancy restrictions, with cleaning in between. Staff and volunteers wear masks. And the café is only offering a limited menu, with boxed lunches.

WWI Museum director Matt Naylor in office.jpg
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Matthew Naylor is the president and CEO of the National WWI Museum and Memorial. Here, Naylor demonstrates mask-wearing inside his office.

Naylor said there are important parallels in the museum’s collection that he thinks visitors will find compelling.

“Who would have thought that a hundred years later we’d be mirroring the similar types of social conditions that there were leading up to World War I? And then also a pandemic like the pandemic of 1918, 1919?”

He adds, “And it seems to me that as we look at the experience of our forebears, we can see that they still were able to summon the courage to do something new, to believe that things could be different. And I think that presents to us a similar invitation and also a degree of confidence to know that if our forbears did that well, perhaps we can, too.”

Feeling comfortable with safety protocols

On Wednesday afternoon, a grandmother wearing a mask sat inside a boat with her grandson in the KidScape, a hands-on history area at the Johnson County Museum.

Jacqueline and son Noah.jpg
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Jacqueline Sutton booked a reservation in the KidScape at Johnson County Museum for her two kids, including her son Noah.

Jacqueline Sutton sat on the floor on a playmat next to her young son, Noah.

“I just felt comfortable, I guess, with the safety protocols that they had in place,” Sutton said. “The reservations and the cleaning between, and limiting the numbers. It seemed like they were really following everything that the health department has recommended.”

Johnson County Museum director Mary McMurray said they had to adapt how all areas of the museum are run, following the state and county reopening guidelines. This includes timed tours for the museum, timed experiences in KidScape, with only 15 people. And limited spaces available for their summer camps.

“The capacity here (in the KidScape) is 117 people,” she said. “But we only allow 14 people in, at a time, at this stage, right now.”

They’ve minimized the number of items that are out, she said, for rotating cleaning and active use. There’s a big deep clean at the end of each session, which runs for 90 minutes, and at the end of the day.

“Cleaning protocols have become a dominant part of our lives right now,” she said.

Mary at exhibit.jpg
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
Johnson County Museum director Mary McMurray stands in front of the new exhibition, "Rising to the Challenge: Surburban Strength in Difficult Times."

Starting June 15, a handful of more people will be allowed in. And the museum will start to offer timed entry, morning and afternoon sessions, with a break in the middle of the day for intensive cleaning.

McMurray started this job in April, when the museum was closed and during the coronavirus pandemic.

Collecting past and present stories of "perseverance and adapting"

For most museums, exhibitions are planned several years in advance. A new exhibition called “Rising to the Challenge: Suburban Strength in Difficult Times” came together in six weeks and opened on June 1.

“My first day was April 6, and April 9 we had the idea, we need to respond to this. And history is a great way to do that,” she said. “We were working on researching, on framing this, on selecting the best stories. It’s built us up, reminded us how strong we could be, and that’s what we wanted to do for our community.”

Inside glass cases in the lobby, there’s a bag created out of surplus ties, an innovation from a tie wholesaler during the Great Depression. A flyer alerting residents of an earlier quarantine for scarlet fever. And a prototype of one of the face shields created in Johnson County Library’s Makerspace.

“And it's just an incredible story of perseverance and adapting,” she said. “You know, they created this, this new prototype, and then the team that worked there worked 24 hours a day, so the printers could keep running so that they could get those supplies out.”

An empty glass case at the Johnson County Museum, waiting to hold stories of coronavirus experiences.
Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
This glass case remains empty, awaiting stories of experiences during the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s also one empty case encouraging people to share their COVID-19 experience.

“You know, we are living in historic times,” she said. “We are a collecting museum and your stories, the stories of individual people, living, adapting, rising to the challenge. It's part of our history and what makes us unique. So we want to encourage people to share their history with us.”

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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