After Six Months, The Museum Of Fine Arts St. Petersburg Reopens Its Doors

Sep 22, 2020
Originally published on September 21, 2020 5:52 pm

Visitors will have to wait a bit longer to see the museum's works by Monet, Morisot, Rodin, O’Keeffe and many others, as well as ancient Greek and Roman, Asian, African, and Native American art.

The galleries of the museum's permanent collection are in the final stages of renovation and are expected to open in October, but two special exhibitions are on view now.

And, as with all indoor spaces in the region, the cultural institution is asking visitors to adhere to safety guidelines.

Click here to see what you need to know before visiting the reopened MFA.

WUSF's Cathy Carter spoke with Kristen Shepherd, the MFA's executive director about the impact of the extended closure and the museum's plans moving forward.

Kristen, the MFA was among the first museums in the region to close due to COVID-19. When did you start thinking about the process of reopening and what factors were part of that conversation?

Our plan was to reopen in July. And to that end, we just remained very data-driven in our decision making process. The reason we closed in the first place was based on rising infection rates. So our July opening, we were fully prepared for that. However, we started to see the infection rates rise after the Memorial Day holiday. So we decided the right decision for us was to remain closed until September, and we have really great processes in place to keep everyone safe.

In July, the American Alliance of Museums warned that a third of the nation's museums might not survive the pandemic and its aftermath. So what can you tell us about the challenges and the impact of the extended closure for the MFA?

It’s no secret it's been very challenging for all kinds of organizations. For us, we are highly reliant on members and donors as well as admissions revenue and other earned income. We did apply for the payroll protection loans. The difficult choices we faced included furloughing our part-time employees, mostly visitor services staff, and we shifted our store operations to online only, which unfortunately resulted in two retail store positions being eliminated. But we're very confident that we've made prudent financial decisions for the museum that will allow us to continue to serve the community in the best way possible.

What percentage of revenue is generated by visitors?

About 14% of our income comes through admissions and 9% comes from membership. In addition to that, there's other earned income that comes from areas like rentals of the space for events, our café and our retail store. So having people here visiting the museum and using the museum is a really important part of not just our mission, but part of our financial plan as well.

So given the magnitude of these closures, do you think the government should step in at this time to help out cultural organizations financially?

Absolutely. Recently, we saw the United Kingdom step in with a $2 billion aid package to help the arts and culture in the United Kingdom, recognizing the incredibly important role the arts play, not just in the economy, but in the recovery. So I think it is astonishing, that the recent CARES package that came through for the United States, for all of us, was $40 million. It’s paltry. My hope is that any future aid packages include much more support because the arts and culture are not a luxury. This is a key sector that drives innovation and creativity. It is big business, employing millions of people generating billions of dollars in tax revenues. And it is also the soul of who we are.

One positive outcome of the extended closure is that you were able to move forward with some planned renovations. What can you tell us about the future of the museum? What will it look like moving forward?

The renovation is going to be transformational for many of our visitors who will really rediscover our collection, given the new installation as well as some of the cosmetic changes and construction changes we made. Recent restoration projects have allowed us to bring some really wonderful things out of storage that haven't been seen in a very long time. In addition, we have new acquisitions, we have really important loans, and the space is going to be so beautiful. It's going to be a really magical highlight for the coming season.

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