Boston’s flagship museums and art galleries have been open for months. But university-affiliated art venues, which once played a mammoth role in the region’s cultural scene, are taking their sweet time.
Most university museums and galleries are free and don’t rely on ticket sales, unlike their non-collegiate counterparts. This partly explains why university art venues were the first to shutter when the pandemic first reared its ugly head in our daily lives in March 2020.
Now, at the mercy of their institution’s edicts, these arts organizations are trickling back months later than peers including the Museum of Fine Arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Institute of Contemporary Art.
Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, in Waltham, will be among the first university venues to welcome back general visitors when it reopens Friday with two exhibitions: “re: collections, Six Decades at the Rose Art Museum” and “Frida Kahlo: POSE.” This follows the museum’s reopening to Brandeis students, faculty, and staff in September 2020.
“June 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the Rose’s founding, so we were thrilled to receive the green light from Brandeis to begin developing a plan to reopen our doors to the general public,” Chad Sirois, the Rose’s assistant communications director, wrote in a statement.
While most of the big museums have ditched mask mandates by now, the Rose will still require them. It is also planning capacity limits, health assessments, and timed ticketing to ensure social distancing. Tickets can be reserved in advance via www.brandeis.edu/rose.
Though strolling through the Rose will soon be allowed, Sirois added that the institution has no intention of phasing out its new, improved digital presence. “Virtual programming has allowed us to expand our audiences and enhance the accessibility of these events,” he wrote. “We will continue to utilize it in the future, even as we return to in-person events and embrace more hybrid formats.”
Reopening ahead of the Rose was Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art, which welcomed the general public (by appointment anyway) for just one month before closing again in mid-June for the usual summer hiatus. On the walls was an exhibition featuring 20th-century abstractions out of the Arab world. “There were a lot of people who were interested in it,” said McMullen director Nancy Netzer in an interview. “Or at least people who really were just interested in going to a museum that was open.”
The McMullen’s next show, featuring works by Cuban painter Mariano Rodríguez, is slated for a Sept. 7 opening with plans to offer virtual and in-person docent tours, Netzer said. “What one doesn’t know is whether we’re going to be able to have unlocked doors,” Netzer added. “There’s a lot that could happen between now and the end of August.”
Across the Charles River, MIT List Visual Art Center director Paul Ha said his venue has remained flexible as plans fluctuated. The center reopened for MIT students, faculty, and staff in May 2021 after the school initially told Ha to wait for September.
“We took the slot and the show that we were going to do in September, and then we installed it and we opened it for May,” Ha explained in an interview.
“Leslie Thornton: Begin Again, Again” will be on view at the List Center until February, with an official opening on Oct. 22. But first, the galleries will reopen to the general public on Sept. 11.
“We’re going to have openings, we’ll have people come, we’re going to have passed hors d’oeuvres and drinks, and artists giving lectures — we are fully on board to go as usual, starting September,” Ha said. “I think we’re just waiting to see how the summer goes, and whether this variant spikes the COVID cases...”
Nearby, Harvard University has announced no plans to reopen its three art museums. Tufts University’s art galleries are currently closed for summer installation, but will open to the general public Sept. 9, according to department and curatorial assistant Kaelynn Maloney.
And in the heart of the city, Boston University’s redone Stone Gallery was still under construction when the pandemic struck. “The good news for us is that we didn’t get stuck with a show already in place,” said managing director Lissa Cramer. “We didn’t have anything scheduled that had to be canceled.”
Cramer added that BU is being “conservative” regarding reopening to the public, but she has her “fingers crossed” it will be in the fall.
“My artist for spring of 2022 is just kind of waiting,” she said, “because he doesn’t want to have a show unless we can open up to the public.”