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Museum of Idaho preps to reopen, creates new ways to reach out to the community

Education

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IDAHO FALLS — Like most entertainment venues, COVID-19 pandemic caused the Museum of Idaho to close its door on March 16.

But that doesn’t mean museum workers have been sitting on their hands. Behind closed doors workers have been making a lot of changes to benefit improve safely of patrons, and to give them a better experience at the museum.

The museum reopens Saturday, and to protect visitors from the virus, they’ll come up with new ways to deliver education and entertainment to patrons. Even the scheduling of exhibitions on display has been changed.

“A lot has been able to get done,” museum spokesperson Jeff Carr told EastIdahoNews.com. “I think we’re all really proud of the work we’ve been able to do, not only trying to respond to this crisis but trying to make the best of it.”

A lot of these changes involve providing a safer, cleaner environment for museum visitors. New hand sanitizing stations, sneeze guards and signage have been installed throughout the museum to help fight the spread of COVID-19. A new online admissions portal will also help visitors to get museum tickets for specific time slots ahead of time and without the passing of physical items like cash or debit cards, a move that should provide extra protection to both patrons and museum staff.

The biggest change made to fight the novel coronavirus is the hiring of a full-time custodian, whose job will be to enact a new cleaning and disinfection protocol. Though the museum has previously contracted with janitorial companies for cleaning, new issues arising from the pandemic, along with other factors, meant the time was right to add a custodian to the staff.

“Since the museum is larger now than it used to be, it’s a bigger burden that demands a full-time position,” Carr said. “We were actually already thinking of hiring full-time custodian a few months down the road, but with COVID coming up, we got permission to do it earlier.”

Yet another change involves the museum’s hours of operation. Monday through Saturday, the museum will open at 11:00 a.m., one hour later than previously. The first 90 minutes will be reserved for seniors, the immunocompromised and any healthy people who agree to wear masks. After 12:30 p.m., masks will be strongly encouraged but not required.

The museum will have masks available for those who want to purchase one for a small fee.

The museum’s closure has also affected its programming. “BodyWorlds: Animal Inside Out” was to open this month, but has been pushed back and will arrive in September while “Darwin and Dinosaurs” will stay through the summer, giving east Idahoans some extra time to check it out.

Carr said shuffling the museum’s traveling exhibits schedule took a lot of coordination with museums across the country and even internationally.

“Schedules with museums world-wide have had to change,” he said. “We were supposed to get ‘BodyWorlds: Animal Inside Out’ basically next week, but it’s in Calgary, Canada and can’t cross international borders. So our exhibit director, Rod Hanson, has been on the phone with exhibit companies, other museums, working out a plan that allows everyone to get what they need while still staying true to their contracts, etc.”

The COVID closure has also provided an opportunity for the museum to develop new methods of reaching out to the community. The staff has converted popular programs like “Museum Club” and “Museum After Dark” to online virtual experiences. They converted their Rocky Mountain Adventure Summer Camp program into a 4-episode subscription crate at-home program that is a little like Lootcrate and other popular subscription services. (Click here to register.)

They have also developed a number of virtual tours and other resources for their website and even built a drive-through exhibit to tide museum visitors over during the closure. Many of the programs created during the pandemic will continue into the future.

“We’re fortunate to be in the position to make changes that will be useful going forward,” said Carr. “We’ve been talking a lot about using technology to bring more value to museum members and visitors of all stripes. But there’s always going to be a desire and importance to come into the museum when possible. You can see anything you want to from all around the world on a screen, but there’s always going to be a special experience when you can see an object in front of you that has historical significance. That’s why museums exist.”

Click here to visit the Museum of Idaho website for information about the museum’s programming and events.

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