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Boston’s biggest art museums to temporarily close due to coronavirus

Visitors walked through a gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on Thursday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

In a joint statement issued Thursday afternoon, Boston’s most prominent art museums said they would close to the public, effective at the end of the day.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Institute of Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum cited increased vigilance concerning the spread of Covid-19 in the state of Massachusetts. The news came just a few hours after New York’s enormous Metropolitan Museum of Art announced a temporary closure.

“The CDC has clearly communicated that one of the most effective measures for controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is social distancing,” read the statement from the Boston museums. “Based on that recommendation, we feel it our ethical responsibility to put the common good ahead of any one individual or institution.”


No timeline for reopening was suggested by any of the institutions. “We’re saying ‘temporarily closed’ for now,” said Jennifer Aubin at Harvard Art Museums. “We’re reassessing constantly.”

At the MFA, spokesperson Karen Frascona said the museum would be closed for up to 30 days. After that, it, too, would reassess. The MFA closure stings in particular as Boston’s largest art museum was in the midst of celebrating its 150th anniversary.

“We wanted people to come here to share and celebrate, so sure, it’s hard to stop the momentum,” said MFA director Matthew Teitelbaum. “It’s hard to imagine we may have to delay things like our Basquiat opening. But we’ll regroup when we start to see a glide path to reopening, and when we do, you can be sure we’ll do it with conviction.”

Teitelbaum said the decision hinged on staffers’ anxiety with everyday comings and goings, and the vulnerability employees started to feel as the outbreak worsened. ”We work in an environment in which staff are central to the way we think about community, public space, gathering,” Teitelbaum said. “If staff is anxious about those things, it has to be taken into account.”


Until very recently, there had been hope that larger institutions could remain open, providing refuge and solace as they did in the aftermath of 9/11. Rarely the scene of dense crowds, museums easily allow visitors to maintain the recommended 6-foot distance from one person to the next. But in the end, ICA director Jill Medvedow said, even the slightest risk was too much.

“It was technically possible [to stay open] but not in terms of our ability to control the movement of people,” she said, noting that the ICA would also reassess the situation week to week. “This was the responsible thing to do. Our job is to serve the public, and this is serving the public.”

Murray Whyte can be reached at murray.whyte@globe.com. Follow him @TheMurrayWhyte.