[This is a slightly different version of a story we prepared for USA TODAY ]
As communities begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions, many museums around the country are finally able to reopen their doors.
Reserve a ticket, venture in, and you will find that your favorite artifacts have been waiting patiently for your return. And that museum staff have used their ‘time off’ to mount new exhibitions and create new experiences.
Many free museum admission programs are back too.
“While the museum visit may look a little different, whether that be enhanced cleaning procedures or wearing masks,” says Laura Lott, President and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). “Visitors can expect a safe experience in which their curiosity is sparked, and they feel reconnected to their communities.”
Here are some museums where you can start getting reconnected.
Pawns and Passports at the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, MO
To inspire travel planning, the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, MO makes a move with “Pawns and Passports.” The exhibition features more than 50 chess sets celebrating the popular culture of different regions. Included is a Russian chess set made from ancient mammoth ivory and an elegant Chinese puzzle ball set, with carved concentric spheres. Exhibition dates: June 3, 2021 – January 30, 2022. Bonus: A virtual tour of the exhibit will be available.
Driven to Win: Racing in America at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Dearborn, MI
The sprawling Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, MI is now open daily and revved up with a new permanent exhibit about American auto racing.
Driven to Win: Racing in America celebrates stock cars, sports cars, drag racing, land-speed racing, and more, with plenty of interactive displays, historic race cars, and racing simulators.
The 80-acre outdoor Greenfield Village reopened April 17, but only Thursday-Sunday for now, due to the pandemic.
Bonus: The longing running Motor Muster in Greenfield Village returns on Father’s Day Weekend (June 19-20) in Greenfield Village.
Kusama: Cosmic Nature at the New York Botanical Garden. Bronx, NY
A celebration of the wonderfully imaginative artwork of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, who has a lifelong fascination with, and whimsical view of nature, runs through October 31, 2021, across the 250-acres of the New York Botanical Garden. The Kusama takeover includes new, monumental sculptures, expansive floral installations, and soon, a new Infinity Mirrored Room experience.
Bonus: A variety of special programs accompany this exhibit, including weekend pop-up performances and activities for kids.
SOLDIER/ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II at the National WWII Museum, New Orleans
In New Orleans, the National WWII Museum‘s exhibit “SOLDIER |ARTIST: Trench Art in World War II” presents more than 150 artifacts exploring the unique military pastime of creating art, souvenirs, and tools out of the discarded materials and waste of war.
The collection ranges from ashtrays and jewelry to radios and musical instruments made by prisoners of war. Through January 2, 2022.
Bonus: The art deco Higgins Hotel, on the museum campus, helps tell the WWII story with artifacts, artwork, photography, and personal story plaques.
The American Struggle, by Jacob Lawrence, at the Seattle Art Museum
Jacob Lawrence’s revolutionary, 30-panel series, “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” painted between 1954-1956, is reunited for the first time since 1958 in a touring exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) through May 23, 2021.
The modernist paintings depict pivotal moments from the American Revolution to westward expansion, with Black, female, and Native Americans in central roles. This is the only West Coast venue for the show. It moves on to the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C. from June 26 to September 19, 2021.
Bonus: SAM has paired this exhibition with artwork by contemporary young artists that responds to Lawrence’s work and addresses the ongoing American struggle.
#HastagTheCowboy at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City
During the shutdown, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City handed over the reins of its social media account to the facility’s head of security, Tim Tiller.
The internet went wild.
“People from all around the world were drawn to Tim’s positive messages and a chance to learn something about the history and art of the American West,” says museum president and CEO Natalie Shirley.
Now that the museum has reopened, there’s a #HashtagTheCowboy exhibit that includes Tiller’s selfie-famous coffee mug and some of the gifts and art sent in by fans.
Bonus: The museum will be holding its annual Chuck Wagon Festival May 29-30, 2021, with chuck wagon and Native food samples, artist demonstrations, Western reenactors, and more.
Virtual museum experiences not going away
During the pandemic, virtual exhibitions and experiences were the only way many museums could connect with their audiences. There were challenges and some upsides.
“Responding to the challenge of the pandemic, we reached 7 million virtual visitors through live, guided programs and on-demand content in 2020,” said Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. “This is something we will continue to do.”
In fact, the museum just unveiled two new free-to-access online exhibitions.
Suiting the Sound: The Rodeo Tailors Who Made Country Stars Shine Brighter, explores the artistry of Western-wear designers whose couture designs helped create country’s music’s “rhinestone cowboy” image.
Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City explores Bob Dylan’s 1960s Nashville recordings, the role Johnny Cash’s groundbreaking television show had in expanding the perception of Nashville, and the ace session musicians, known as the “Nashville Cats.”
Bonus: The museum is offering a variety of educational programming, including a collaboration with Nashville Fashion Week. Check the website for details.
Free Museum admission
Although the pandemic made deep dents in non-profit budgets, many museums reopen with their free admission and discount programs intact.
Others continue to participate in programs offering free museum passes.
Blue Star Museums offers free admission for active-duty military personnel, including the National Guard and Reserves and their families.
Other programs offering free admission include Museums for All (for SNAP program participants), Bank of America’s Museums on Us program (for those with Bank of America or Merrill credit or debit cards), and the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association, with more than 1000 art and cultural institutions that honor membership cards from other institutions in the network.
Bonus: Smithsonian Magazine Day, which was canceled in 2020, returns on September 18, 2021, with free admission passes to more than 600 participating museums, gardens, zoos, and attractions.