The museum experience promises to feel very different this summer, as the cultural community begins recovering from the global pandemic and figures out how to operate in a sanitized, no-touch world.

The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland will be the first major art museum in Maine to offer an example of how that might work when it opens with limited hours in two weeks. Meanwhile, the Victoria Mansion in Portland will not reopen this year at all, not even for its popular end-of-year holiday events.

Because of the sensitive and delicate nature of the mansion’s Civil War-era interior surfaces and furnishings, it would be impossible to sanitize the mansion without the risk of destroying the National Historic Landmark, said executive director Thomas Johnson.

The Victoria Mansion will not open for the remainder of the year. Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“The 1860s finishes on the woodwork, walls, floors and furniture is one of the things we are noted for. This is not a reproduction of anything. These are originals,” he said. “To properly disinfect, we would be using bleach or alcohol-based solutions, something we never allow in this house. They would dissolve the finishes we have. We care very much for the safety of staff and visitors, but if we destroy the very thing we are charted to preserve – if we come out on the other end without that – would it have been worth it?”

To varying degrees, questions of worth and value will vex museum directors and visitors alike this summer, as both get used to new gallery experiences and evaluate the risk and reward. When it reopens to Rockland residents on June 25 and to the general public a day later, the Farnsworth will operate with a timed-ticket entry system, with visitors purchasing tickets through the museum website ahead of time and entering at a specific time, and with admissions limited to seven tickets every 15 minutes and no more than 35 people in the museum at a time.

Visitors will follow a one-way path through the museum’s nine galleries, maintain six-foot distancing and be required to wear face coverings. No one will be admitted if they report having a cough or fever, the museum announced in a news release Tuesday. People who cannot wear face coverings for medical reasons will be able to arrange a private tour.


The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland will open near the end of June. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“Our reopening is the result of weeks of behind-the-scenes work by a team of experts in the fields of health, security, and visitor services to guarantee the safety of your visit – and to ensure we meet or exceed every single guideline from both the (Centers of Disease Control) and the State of Maine,” Farnsworth Director Christopher J. Brownawell said in a statement.

Reopening plans vary widely across the state, said Dugan Murphy, executive director of the Association of Maine Archives and Museums, a statewide organization that represents large urban art museums, tiny rural historical societies and other kinds of institutions in between. The association had a video conference Tuesday afternoon so members could discuss opening plans and hear from their colleagues who have started the process.

The Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport and Maine Maritime Museum in Bath are among the museums that have opened, both focusing their activities on their large outdoors campuses, Murphy said. The Maine State Museum in Augusta opens Wednesday.

After the Farnsworth, there will be a slew of other openings south to north, and east to west: the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland and the Tides Institute & Museum of Art in Eastport all hope to open July 1, and the Gem and Mineral Museum in Bethel on July 8 – and all with restrictions on the number of visitors and strict guidelines about facial coverings and sanitation.

“We will of course have limited capacity and will encourage folks to purchase tickets online,” said Barbra Barrett, director of the Gem and Mineral Museum. “Capacity will be limited to 15 people in the gallery spaces at any one time.”

The Portland Museum of Art has said it is targeting an early summer opening, but has not publicly disclosed details of its plans. The Portland Observatory will open July 1 with guided tours on the hour by reservation and limited to a single household of no more than four people, said Alessa Wylie, education manager for Greater Portland Landmarks, which operates the Munjoy Hill site.


The Longfellow House will remain closed, after the Maine Historical Society reopens. Photo courtesy of Maine Historical Society

The Maine Historical Society will open its gallery July 8 with its “State of Mind: Becoming Maine” statehood exhibition, which was scheduled to open the day the museum closed because of the virus in March.

The historical society will not open the Longfellow House for tours at least through summer, for much the same reason the Victorian Mansion will remain closed.

“It’s a small space, and there’s the complexity of proper cleaning. Alcohol and such are not historic-collection friendly,” said the society’s executive director, Steve Bromage. “It just doesn’t make sense. We’ll revisit and see where we are in September, but for now we are not reopening the house.”

Other historic organizations that do not plan to open this summer are Old York Historical Society and the Woodlawn Museum, Gardens & Park in Ellsworth. The Pejepscot History Center in Brunswick will open July 7 for private, appointment-only tours of the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum and Skolfield-Whittier House, research appointments, and collection donation drop-offs, said executive director Larissa Vigue Picard. Museums at colleges statewide will remain closed at least as long as the campuses are.

Each organization in Maine faces its own challenge and solutions, she said. “I know some museums have chosen not to open at all, but others of us are attempting eke out something from this season. I think we all need to find our own way in this unprecedented situation, to some degree, as we’re all so different,” she wrote in an email.

What they share is financial risk. According to the New England Museum Association, museums across the region estimated they had lost a cumulative $21 million by May 1 because of the pandemic.

Johnson, the director at the Victoria Mansion, said the museum will open its gift shop, which is separate from the mansion, in July to try to generate some income. He said the closure will cost the museum about $400,000 this year, or roughly two-thirds of the mansion’s annual budget.

“It’s painful,” he said. “This is a huge financial hit for us.”

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