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The DoSeum children’s museum has announced that it will reopen to the public June 29, with a special preview week reserved for members, who can visit starting June 22. Also, as a gesture of appreciation for their work during the coronavirus pandemic, the DoSeum also will offer free admission to health care workers June 22-28.
Managing one of the most hands-on institutions in the city, with hundreds of kids commonly exploring, playing, screaming, and laughing together during visits, leadership of the DoSeum realized they would face a significant challenge in reopening when permitted by Gov. Greg Abbott’s “Open Texas” orders.
During three months of closure, a task force of 30 museum staff members convened to form a plan including new safety protocols, modified and closed exhibits, new signage, and a promise to the community.
The promise takes the form of a document to be distributed to all guests outlining the museum’s commitment to strict safety measures, including frequent sanitization and limited occupancy of exhibits. The document also specifies guidelines for visitors, including maintaining social distance when possible, and a face mask requirement for all staff and visitors 10 and older, with masks for everyone ages 2-9 “strongly recommended.”
“It reiterates our commitment to the community and particularly to our staff and guests,” Sandra Garcia, vice president of marketing, said of the DoSeum promise.
DoSeum President Dan Menelly credited the museum’s open, spacious design with accommodating necessary changes, with only three exhibits – Bubble Pavilion, Big Climb, and the Sand Yard – requiring closure due to difficulties with sanitization and social distancing.
“We remapped the entire guest experience to better enable social distancing,” Menelly said. “It’s going to be the same range of experiences, but they’re configured slightly differently to enable families to come and participate on their own terms, to spread out, to feel safe, and to feel confident in their experience.”
Visitors are asked to purchase tickets online in advance and choose one of three daily time slots for their visits: 10 a.m. to noon, 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., or 3 to 5 p.m. In keeping with its Museums For All policies, walk-up visits will be accepted, though visitors might have to wait until the museum’s reduced occupancy limits allow additional guests.
Instituting time slots will allow an expanded cleaning staff to sweep through the museum.
“Between those periods, we have a very carefully choreographed burst cleaning process,” he said, that entails wiping and treating all surfaces with sanitizing agents, and taking toys and other handled objects out of circulation, to be replaced with fresh objects while the collected ones are thoroughly cleaned.
Regular DoSeum summer camps in June were modified to adhere to strict safety protocols and became templates for reopening, said Richard Kissel, vice president of education. After convening a dialogue with camp registrants, Kissel reimagined what an in-person coronavirus-era camp might look like.
“Each camper has their own desk, their own station … their own tape, they have their own markers, they have their own scissors,” he said. The idea to individuate visitor experiences was then extended to reimagined exhibits within the museum, emphasizing single-use resources among family pods.
A testimonial from one camper attests to the museum’s efforts. “Y’all simply nail it!!! The staff at the DoSeum have the routines and schedule down to a fine art.”
In addition to cleaning and distancing, “we’ll have gallery attendants monitoring … and observing the safety precautions. We’re also going to limit the number of people in each gallery so that we can better observe their behavior and make sure that it’s safe,” Menelly said.
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The DoSeum has hired an additional eight staff members specifically to help with cleaning and safety procedures, said Lisa Ewell, vice president of human resources. A federal Paycheck Protection Program loan helped the museum retain and pay its full staff of 102 employees during the shutdown period, Ewell said.
Some staff were tasked with developing signage as guides and reminders for visitors on how to behave while using indoor and outdoor spaces.
New graphics featuring the popular Baxter the Robot will reinforce visitor guidelines, posted as signage throughout the museum. Baxter itself will remain in its second-floor spot within the Innovation Station exhibit, as the perfect pandemic pal, Mennelly suggested, because of its no-touch interactivity.
The gesture-mirroring robot, Puppet Parade, and other no-touch interactive exhibits are “actually perfect for the moment, because there’s no physical contact involved in many of the interactive elements with the museum,” he said.
A specially commissioned video, available on the DoSeum website with a shorter version at the museum entrance, will give potential visitors a glimpse of precautions the museum will undertake to assure their safety. Menelly said the video will “help inform their individual decision of really participating. When [museum visitors] choose to participate, we really want them to feel safe.”