‘Planning, Communication and Collaboration’: How The American Indian Museum Reopened In Lower Manhattan
On June 23, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (1 Bowling Green) officially reopened its doors, a milestone after the Covid shutdown. A huge banner graced the museum, and visitors could once again peruse the vast object-based collection “Infinity of Nations,” the contemporary art and exhibits and the epic architecture of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. But what was the experience like, from an inside perspective? How does a museum reopen in the wake of a pandemic?
“Planning, communication and collaboration,” Sharyl Pahe-Short, Visitor Services Manager, told the Downtown Alliance. ‘We over-prepared to ensure we had enough staff to keep everyone safe.”
Pahe-Short stressed capacity restrictions, health screenings and regular cleaning especially in high-touch areas, as well as the use of hand sanitizer and masks. The museum has also implemented weekly and daily check-ins among staff and key stakeholders. “Our staff [70 to 80 people] have had huge camaraderie in working as a team. Our morning meetings have been lively and everyone brings up suggestions to improve our safety procedures in working with visitors.”
Some of the differences have been striking, Pahe-Short said:
“Before the pandemic, people might kind of stumble into the museum like, ‘What is going on, what is this place?’ But, now, we have staff in name tags outside the building. We have the welcome sign. We answer questions. We’re more clear and apparent. And this was a response to Covid. As we return, we want to give clarity and make people’s visits as easy and convenient as possible, since policies are changing.”
The staff and museum as a whole, Pahe-Short stressed, feel thrilled to welcome people back, in part because the museum’s presence is so important in this neighborhood. “It links with the architecture of Downtown,” she added, “with the history of this part of the island, with infamous stories, for example the Lenape and the Dutch. People are coming in and learning about that, and about the Indigenous people still here today.”
photo: Josh KatzTags: nmai