One year later, Grand Rapids museums, theatres remain hopeful


Grand Rapids Public Museum, September 23 2020, by Jonathan Eloi Lantiegne

Mary Dupuis

With the recent announcement from President Joe Biden that all Americans will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, Grand Rapids museums and theatres began slowly opening their doors wider and wider to the public in accordance with CDC guidelines. 

Now, with Michigan becoming a COVID-19 hot-spot, many of these same museums and theatres are finding themselves at a standstill. With policies remaining untouchable and progress seeming distant, museums and theatres are remaining hopeful and waiting it out once again. 

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) reopened in July at 25% capacity and moved to 50% capacity in March. Kate Kocienski, GRPM Vice President of Marketing and PR, said they have had much success with the current safety guidelines in place, and they plan to continue this way. 

“Knock on wood, we are very fortunate that all procedures and policies have led to no outbreaks happening at the museum, so we’re really happy about that,” said Kocienski. 

She said that the museum is following all state guidelines, including reduced capacity, advanced ticketing, a mask requirement (if a visitor is unable to wear a mask, a face shield is required), social distancing in museum spaces and timed ticketing for the popular visiting exhibitions. The museum also has high-quality air filters that create “hospital-quality air control.”

Kocienski said since reopening, the museum has only had to make minor adjustments in terms of traffic flow and where to put plexiglass. They have not yet been able to bring back hands-on interactives or hold any events. 

However, they have seen success with smaller groups of educational classes and after-school programs offered to students and the public. Kocienski said usually eight children come and participate, and for spring break, the museum hosted science shows in their theatre. 

Although the museum was hopeful for the lifting of restrictions as vaccinations became more widespread, Kocienski said that with cases on the rise again, it doesn’t look as if things will be returning to normalcy any time soon. 

“What does post-pandemic life look like?” Kocienski said. “It’s hard to predict knowing things have shifted so rapidly. Michigan is a hot spot once again, so we’ll just continue to follow the procedures we know are working.”

Another Grand Rapids museum that is sticking to what they know during this time is the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM). 

GRAM Communications Manager Elizabeth Payne said the museum also opened in July and is currently still operating with reduced capacity to best protect the health and safety of staff, volunteers and guests, and that they do not plan to change anything at this time. 

“The Museum’s health and safety guidelines have served us well,” Payne said. “Because safety has been our top priority throughout this process, and our team has done thorough research, our visitor guidelines have largely remained unchanged.”

Payne said although the museum does not predict a return to normal procedures in the near future, their top priority is making the museum a safe place for guests to visit when they are comfortable enough to do so. 

“We hope members of our community will visit when they feel ready,” Payne said. “The Museum offers an array of in-person and virtual experiences and three floors of artwork, so we encourage guests to head to our website to plan their visit and reserve timed tickets.”

The Community Circle Theatre in Grand Rapids very recently decided that they were ready to begin performances again, and are prepared to operate outdoors and indoors with limited capacity and in accordance with all CDC guidelines in order to make that happen. 

Ashlee McGreevy, Circle Theatre Marketing and Outreach Specialist said Circle Theatre will be opening with outdoor productions of “The Gin Game” starting in May and “Always… Patsy Cline” in June. 

In July, they plan to move back into the theatre with “Cabaret,” followed by “Noises Off” and “Hair.” McGreevy said that although they have been creating online content and hosting pop-up concerts throughout the past year, the theatre is excited to invite patrons back for live theatre, so long as it is safe to do so.  

“So much of what we are doing in regards to mask-wearing, social distancing, capacity restrictions and other safety precautions are dictated by medical professionals,” McGreevy said. “We will continue to keep our beloved community in mind and do our part to keep everyone as safe and comfortable as possible.”

McGreevy said the theatre hopes that people will come back to the theatre as soon as possible, and with joyful hearts. 

“Our hope is that people will be excited, feel comfortable, and be ready to support local theatre,” McGreevy said. “Grand Rapids has amazing talent and we have the privilege to showcase that talent and tell needed stories. We look forward to the day that we can welcome folks back into the theatre for live entertainment.”

Similar to the theatre, Kocienski said she hopes that the museum can be a source of fun and of peace for visitors, even if the road ahead seems challenging once again. 

“I hope the public sees the museum as a resource both for a great place to go and have educational fun and for a mental health break to get out of the house in a low-risk environment,” Kocienski said. “Museums are one of the safest indoor activities you can do, so we hope the museum stays on top of peoples’ minds as a low-risk activity to do with their family.”