SANTA ANA, Calif.—The sound of jungle birds and native tribal music from Papua New Guinea filled the air at The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, on June 30. It was the last day to feel pleasantly out of place at the museum’s “Spirits and Headhunters” exhibit before the museum closed July 1.
On July 1, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that certain indoor operations, including museums, must close for at least three weeks in 19 counties on a monitoring list. Among those counties was Orange, home of several museums including The Bowers Museum.
“The bottom line is the spread of this virus continues at a rate that is particularly concerning,” Newsom said. “Effective immediately, sectors required to close their indoor facilities include restaurants, wineries and tasting rooms, movie theaters, family entertainment centers, zoos and museums, and cardrooms.”
The Bowers Museum first closed on March 17, then spent several weeks leading up to its June 17 reopening, preparing safety measures. It installed Plexiglas at transaction areas, closed drinking fountains, removed benches, and more.
“Along with our other measures that follow state and federal guidelines for the safety of our visitors, we also took out high-touch objects, and all the doors have been propped open,” Director of Communications Kelly Bishop told The Epoch Times.
With Disneyland closed, the museum’s Disney exhibit has been a focal point for Disney enthusiasts. Many visitors were clad head to toe in Disney apparel. Michelle Mink of La Habra, one of the visitors to the exhibit, said she “felt completely safe” during her visit.
Bishop expressed optimism despite the recent re-closing. “You can look at the bright side of things,” she said. “This was an opportunity to get more virtual.”
“We now have children’s art programs, music, senior entertainment programs, a YouTube channel that features past guest lecturers, podcasts, an online audio tour of the museum, and more attention to our Bowers Blog,” she said.
But at The Museum of Woman, in Irvine, the greater impacts on smaller museums have been clear, according to founder Ava Park. “This has hit us hard. We don’t have the resources like The Bowers Museum has,” Park told The Epoch Times.
The Museum of Woman has also taken things online, with videos and scheduled discussions that have been available throughout stay-at-home orders. It has not reopened since the March shutdown.
In a March letter to Congress, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) asked for federal aid for museums, estimating that about 30 percent—particularly smaller ones—would not be able to reopen without aid.
More than 850 million visits are counted at museums across the country annually, according to AAM. This is greater than the estimated total attendance of all professional sporting events in the United States.
The economic contribution of U.S. museums amounts to more than $50 billion in Gross Domestic Product, 726,200 jobs, and $12 billion in taxes, according to AAM.
Many Orange County museums didn’t respond to requests for comment on their current situation.
At the Orange County Great Park, art and museum exhibits closed up on July 1, following Newsom’s orders. The park’s on-site workers continue to maintain the grounds for people to roam around outside the exhibition area.
Wearing a mask and holding his work-worn gloves, one maintenance worker told The Epoch Times on July 2, “The park staff has done a good job in communicating with visitors. The sidewalks, bathrooms, and doors all feature easy guides to ensure coronavirus safety.”
A woman and three children passed by, on their way to peek in at a closed-off aircraft hangar displaying a classic World War I-era airplane. They rode off on their scooters, laughing and appearing to enjoy the outing despite its limitations.
Charlie Yao of Irvine, who was at the park with his family, said, “[We] enjoy the space here at the Great Park, but it’s too bad the exhibits are closed off.”
Other museums in the area have been going virtual, including The Discovery Science Center, which now offers virtual day camps for children from kindergarten to 8th grade.
The California Science Center started an online Stuck at Home Science program for children.