New York’s major cultural institutions close in response to coronavirus
Several of New York’s largest and most prestigious cultural institutions — including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic — announced Thursday that they would temporarily shut down in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The closures — which came after cities in Europe, as well as San Francisco and Seattle, had called off performances — underscored the extent to which major institutions of all kinds are trying to prevent large gatherings of people in the hopes of slowing the spread of the disease. Shortly after the closures were announced, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that he was moving to ban gatherings of more than 500 people in the state, effectively closing all large performances and shutting down Broadway theaters as well.
“It would be irresponsible to continue having performances when clearly what is being called for is social distancing,” said Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, which, along with the Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall, is canceling performances through the end of the month in an effort to protect audiences and performers alike.
The closures represented a turning point: After days of taking a wait-and-see-approach, even as Europe adopted far more stringent restrictions, American presenters and officials decided it was time for a more aggressive strategy. This went beyond New York: After California moved to limit large gatherings, on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced that concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall were being canceled, and orchestra concerts in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia were called off, as were performances at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
The Metropolitan Museum said it would temporarily close its Fifth Avenue flagship and two other locations — the Met Breuer, on Madison Avenue, and the Met Cloisters in northern Manhattan — starting Friday. It did not announce a target date to reopen but said it would undertake a thorough cleaning and announce further steps early next week.
“The Met’s priority is to protect and support our staff, volunteers and visitors,” Daniel Weiss, the museum’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. He added that the museum had been taking proactive precautionary measures, including discouraging staff travel to affected areas as well as “implementing rigorous cleaning routines, and staying in close communication with New York City health officials and the Centers for Disease Control.”
The museum said it had two employees who have showed symptoms of the virus. One is awaiting a test; the other is at home. The museum — which made its decision in consultation with the mayor’s office — also said it has been preparing for this possibility for several weeks and is implementing an operational plan, which includes provisions to support salaried and hourly staff.
“While we don’t have any confirmed cases connected to the museum, we believe that we must do all that we can to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our community, which at this time calls for us to minimize gatherings while maintaining the cleanest environment possible,” Weiss said.
Even before they made the announcement to shut down, many arts organizations were scrambling to navigate President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from Europe, which threatened to leave many without some of their most important artists and biggest stars.
The music director of the New York Philharmonic, Jaap van Zweden, is currently in his native Amsterdam, and orchestra officials were girding themselves for the possibility that he could be stranded there. The Metropolitan Opera faced the loss of some of its leading stars, including Anna Netrebko, who was supposed to sing there later this month. And the Rotterdam Philharmonic noted the ban as it postponed a tour marking the 50th anniversary of its first United States trip.
Cuomo’s limit on large gatherings effectively closed Broadway theaters. Lincoln Center said that its constituent organizations would stop performing as of Thursday evening. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center said that its musicians would play their planned performances Thursday and Sunday without an audience, and the concerts will be streamed at chambermusicsociety.org.
Anxiety rippled through the arts world in response to the closures. Adam Krauthamer, president of New York’s musicians’ union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, called on city and state officials to come up with a relief plan for musicians — many of whom work as freelancers for multiple employers and need work to qualify for health and pension benefits.
“As theaters and concert halls go dark, we must ensure that musicians and other arts workers are not left behind,” he said in a statement. “We call on all relevant government agencies to work immediately to put together and pass a strong economic relief package that ensures all arts workers have access to health care and unemployment benefits while their workplaces are shuttered.”
The Metropolitan Museum, one of the world’s largest art institutions, made its announcement at a time when it was embarking on celebrations of its 150th anniversary; just this week the museum decided to postpone the opening viewing and reception for its anniversary exhibition, “Making The Met, 1870—2020,”planned for March 23.
Boston’s top art museums followed suit, with the Harvard Art Museums, Institute of Contemporary Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Museum of Fine Arts announcing closures.
While the Frick Collection and the Jewish Museum said Thursday that they would close, New York’s other major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim, have yet to announce similar plans. But, like many institutions, they were alert to the potential for closing if confirmed cases of COVID-19 rise.