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June 2, 2020

Austin museums, movie theatres react to Gov. Abbott’s reopening plan

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that he would let the state’s stay-at-home restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus expire at the end of April as scheduled and allow businesses to begin reopening in phases.

Beginning May 1 museums, libraries, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants and malls will be able to reopen at 25% capacity. The executive order does not require businesses to reopen.

Abbott said a second phase of reopenings allowing businesses to expand their occupancy to 50% could come as soon as May 18 provided the state sees “two weeks of data to confirm no flare-up of COVID-19.”

The new state-wide order also supersedes all existing local orders. Abbott’s order also removed the ability of local authorities to require people to wear masks, though doing so still is encouraged.

Local public museums and libraries may operate only if permitted by the local government. And university museums and libraries must follow reopening plans determined by their respective universities. Also, all interactive functions or exhibitions, including child play areas, must remain closed.

In Austin, where stay-at-home orders were in place through May 8, museums and some independent movie theaters reacted to Abbott’s announcement.

At the non-profit Austin Film Society, which operates the AFS Cinema, CEO Rebecca Campbell pointed to a fractured federal response to the coronavirus pandemic that has left cities and local governments grappling with limited information and resources.

“We are shocked at the decision of the governor to declare it safe to open movie theaters, even at 25% capacity,” she said. “The AFS Cinema will remain closed until further notice as we do our part to prevent the spread of this deadly virus.”

“Texas is the state with the fewest number of tests issued per capita, Travis County Covid-19 cases are on the rise, and experts from around the world are warning about the dangers of reopening too early,” said Campbell.

In March, in the wake of coronavirus closures, Campbell announced staff furloughs and  reductions, including layoffs of all hourly workers at AFS cinema.

Alamo Drafthouse tweeted Monday evening that it won’t be opening its theaters.

“Opening safely is a very complex project that involves countless new procedures and equipment, all of which require extensive training,” the company wrote. “This is something we cannot and will not do casually or quickly.”

Officials at the University of Texas’ Blanton Museum said in a statement that it “will reopen when we are able to properly institute these protective measures and in accordance with the University of Texas at Austin guidelines.”

At the Contemporary Austin, which is a private non-profit, spokesperson Nicole Chism Griffin said that the museum had spent the past few weeks building out site-specific safety and sanitation plans for both of the museum’s locations — the downtown Jones Center on Congress Avenue, and the 12-acre lakeside Laguna Gloria.

“We will be ready when and if it seems safe to begin to reopen incrementally,” Griffin said in a statement. “This would happen in phases, and would begin by allowing more staff to come back to the museum to do their jobs to continue caring for the art, the natural areas, and the facilities that make up our two museum locations, along with securing the supplies we need to safely reopen. The museum would then open at a reduced capacity, much like Governor Abbott describes.”

The Contemporary previously announced that its current exhibition “Nicole Eisenmann: Sturm und Drang” would be extended through Nov. 15.

Officials at the Bullock Texas State History Museum, which is the official history museum of the State of Texas, said that they would be “working to implement the Governor’s recommended measures and will re-open to the public once we can assure visitors we’re doing our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while providing a great museum experience.”

City cultural facilities such as the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center and the Elisabet Ney Museum, must follow directions from city of Austin officials. And the privately-operated Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, which sits on city-owned property, must also follow city guidelines.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the City Council on Tuesday will discuss reopening the local economy.

The Centers for Disease and Prevention’s Business and Workplace guidelines regarding COVID-19 can be found at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzinhttps://sightlinesmag.org
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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