So Much Sanitizer

Slowly, but Surely, Houston's Museums Are Re-Opening

Institutions in the Museum District are taking precautions to keep staff and guests safe.

By Emma Schkloven

The Children's Museum Houston entrance nowadays

As Texas begins to reopen, we’ll be updating this post periodically with the latest information on which institutions are welcoming guests back into their facilities. 

Updated 6:17 p.m. May 29

The Children's Museum Houston will welcome back young learners on June 5 with timed tickets and minimized hands-on stations, among other safety changes. Museum staff will be checking visitors' temperatures before they enter the museum, and guests over the age of 2 must wear masks.  

Updated 4:15 p.m. May 27

Asia Society Texas Center will reopen on June 3 with new safety protocols in place. Guests are required to maintain six feet of social distance, and those aged 10 and up are required to wear face masks. Admission to Asia Society's exhibitions is free through August 31.

Updated 4:33 p.m. May 26

Houstonians will soon be able to book their ticket to outer space because Space Center Houston has announced it will reopen on July 1. Guests are asked to wear face masks and adhere to the new social distancing protocols that include a timed-ticket policy and a one-directional path through the galleries. According to the announcement, there will also be special hours for vulnerable populations.

There's more exciting news for space enthusiasts: visitors will be able to see the center's new permanent exhibit on display outside, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket—the same model that is being used in the May 27 Demo-2 mission. Space Center Houston is one of just two places where you can walk underneath this 156-foot long booster; the only other one is on display outside of SpaceX headquarters in California.

Updated 11:45 a.m. May 26

Houston Zoo is welcoming humans back on its grounds starting June 3. Like many institutions reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, the zoo has adopted new safety protocols, including timed tickets that must be purchased online, a one-way path by the animal habitats, and limited food-service options. Reservations are required for all guests and members; visitors are encouraged to wear masks.

Updated 2:41 p.m. May 22

The Orange Show and Beer Can House have announced they will be open with limited hours during Memorial Day Weekend (May 22–25). The number of guests entering will be limited and masks and social distancing practices are required.

Lone Star Flight Museum, as well as the Waltrip and Heritage Hangars, will also reopen during Memorial Day Weekend, beginning on May 23. Interactive screens will remain off and hands-on experiences will still stay closed, as will the Aviation Learning Center and simulators. The Flight Academy will be limited to visual engagement only. Visitors aged 10 and up must wear masks. 

Updated 3:26 p.m. May 18

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will join the Houston Museum of Natural Science in welcoming back guests when it reopens its doors to the public on May 23. Like HMNS, the MFAH has announced various changes to ensure the safety of its staff and guests, which include face mask requirements and mandatory temperature checks. 

Updated 3:47 p.m. May 12

The Houston Museum of Natural Science will be the first institution in the Museum District to begin welcoming back guests, reopening its doors on May 15. Like all things in life these days, this opening comes with new safety changes. Of note, face masks are now required for all visitors over the age of 10.

A wave of cleaning has swept through the Children’s Museum Houston in the weeks since the kid-centric exploratory has been closed to the public. But it’s not the usual spring cleaning that accompanies this time of year: A tsunami of hospital-grade disinfectant has cleansed every surface. Staffers walk the halls in gloves. Even the Caryakids statues at the building’s entrance are accessorizing with face masks.

“We know some museums are planning to let people come in during the morning, and then they’re closing the museum and clean, clean, clean, cleaning, and then letting people come in for the afternoon,” Executive Director Tammie Kahn says. “We believe in following behind someone and cleaning up as they’re going. We’ve already been practicing without the public here.”

With Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that museums can open May 1—as long as they keep occupancy at 25 percent or less—many of the institutions within Houston’s Museum District are preparing to welcome visitors once again. Although many of these plans have already been in motion for weeks, most of the district’s occupants haven’t set specific reopening dates, a representative from the Asia Society Texas Center says.

Some may open their doors as we move into May. Others, like the Menil Collection, aren’t planning to reopen until this summer.  No matter their timeframe, museum leaders are in constant communication over how each organization plans to move forward in this brave, new coronavirus-filled world, says Rebecca Rabinow, director of the Menil. “Each museum has different needs and challenges.”

Rabinow’s organization, for instance, has not only its galleries to prepare for social distancing. Staff must also consider how to maintain safety protocols on the museum’s expansive green space. Currently, the museum plans to limit the number of guests allowed inside the buildings at any given time.

“We have ordered masks, specialized cleaning supplies, large quantities of hand sanitizer, and scores of other safety measures are being implemented behind the scenes,” adds Rabinow, noting a similar plan to those outlined in statements from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Meanwhile, CMH has an added layer of difficulty in transforming a museum built around hands-on and immersive learning into an equally engaging, but COVID-19 restricted learning space. In addition to instituting timed tickets and cancelling group and school tours during the summer, the children’s museum has created a layout that will move guests from one gallery to another without creating congestion, Kahn says. This new setup includes reorganizing exhibit components, spreading out activity tables, and installing plexiglass.

“We’re even going so far as to create little experience kits,” she says. “Rather than children sharing the crayons or other interactive pieces, those things will be packaged up. And that’s what you use as you go through the museum.”  

Adding extra precautions—whether that be additional cleanings, masks and hand sanitizer or layout changes—will cost the museums thousands or even millions of dollars, officials say. But the money is worth it.

“We have a responsibility to the public,” Kahn says. “We know we make an important difference, and this is incumbent upon us to take the resources we do have and allocate them so we can give back to the community. If you're not in it for the public, you shouldn’t be doing it.”