Why is LACMA the only major museum in the country that is still shut down?

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the nation's major museums earlier this year, but most have since reopened, with one big exception: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

A new survey of nearly 100 members of the American Alliance of Museum Directors reports no cases of COVID transmission since those other museums opened.

LACMA Director Michael Govan is questioning why the largest museum in the west has to remain closed because the COVID rate in L.A. is too high.

Govan is fighting to reopen LACMA like museums in San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego. He expected to reopen by summer like the rest, but the state took over the reopening timetable from the county and pushed it back.

"Every other metropolitan, big metropolitan museum in the United States is already open, other than ours. And there are hundreds of thousands, if not over a million, visitors that have visited those museums since July. And so far, not one single case of COVID transmitted in museums," he said.

LACMA visitors are missing newly installed exhibits like the new Yoshitomo Nara retrospective, where Govan said new protocols ready for visitors.

"I'm standing on a number in front of a painting that is actually social distanced, I'm looking at 20 feet plus to the next numbers," he said.

Just about everything has been made touchless inside LACMA. There are sanitizer stations, just in case a visitor worries about contact. Tickets will be timed and sold online and every guest will be registered for contact tracing.

If department stores and commercial art galleries can open, why not a tightly-regulated museum?

Public health officials say shopping malls are community based while museum visitors come from a broader geographic area. Govan disagrees.

"We actually have very local audience here at LACMA. That's what we count on. That's the bulk of our audience," he said.

The reopening struggle is happening as demolition and construction is underway on the museum's new building, leaving primarily Broad Contemporary and the Resnik Pavillion open for the next three years. Govan says there is still plenty to see at LACMA.

"We have 100,000 square feet of exhibition space open. That's as much space as we closed," he said.

He is appealing to the California Department of Public Health to argue for the enrichment value of art during a pandemic.

"We need to open museums," he said, adding that museums are a public service.

Govan said art is good for our mental health in a pandemic.

"So we're, if you will, dying to reopen because we also know how much it means to people."

It's unclear when LACMA will fully reopen, but popular outdoor sculptures such as "Levitated Mass" and "Urban Light" are open for those who need a museum fix.
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