While the government was set to discuss Minister of Culture Tõnis Lukas' (Isamaa) proposal on Tuesday to reopen museums and other exhibition spaces early next week, it is possible that not all museums will take advantage of the opportunity, as they have already made their plans for reopening after the emergency situation ends.
Lukas told ERR on Monday that if the government decides to reopen shopping centers next week, then museums and other exhibition spaces should be reopened as well. He expressed certainty that this would also be the case. More precisely, this would mean museums reopening on Tuesday, May 12, as many museums are closed on Mondays.
The minister's plan, however, did not receive a positive response from several of Estonia's bigger museums, as the museums themselves have been working on the assumption that they would reopen the Tuesday following the end of the emergency situation, which is currently scheduled for May 17 — in other words, on May 19, or a week later than the date being recommended by the minister.
ERM director: We need time to prepare to reopen
Estonian National Museum (ERM) director Alar Karis said on Monday night, ahead of the government's crisis committee meeting on Tuesday, that the matter of reopening shopping centers had not yet been decided and that the emergency situation remains in force.
"We have very thoroughly discussed based on the latest information how and under what conditions we could reopen ERM following the end of the emergency situation on May 17," Karis said. "The museum will be closed as usual on Monday, or May 18."
He noted that opening the museum under strict conditions would be very difficult and resource-intensive.
"Of first and foremost importance to ERM is the health of our employees, guides and visitors, and we will base our decisions on the legislation of the Riigikogu, the government and the ministries and the guidelines of the Health Board, not the (political) declarations, opinions and wishes of ministers and other individuals in the media and on social media," Karis said. "Opening ERM under strict conditions would be very difficult and resource-intensive, and we are planning all of our activities in such a way that the exhibits, the restaurant and the store can all open to visitors beginning May 19."
According to to the museum director, ERM needs time to prepare to reopen. For now, however, the museum will continue its research work, preparing exhibits, the activities of its education center, the operation of its online museum store and online.
History Museum: Currently planning on May 19
Helene Tedre, director of communications at the Estonian History Museum, likewise told ERR that it is currently planning on reopening on May 19, and that the museum has planned its further steps accordingly.
"The Estonian History Museum is planning to reopen its buildings (Maarjamäe Palace, the Estonian Film Museum, Maarjamäe Stables, the Great Guild Hall and the Theater and Music Museum) on May 19," Tedre said. "You can access Maarjamäe with a discount ticket because under the current circumstances, certain hands-on solutions and screens will not be activated in the exhibits."
The grounds at Maarjamäe Palace have already been open to visitors since May 2, however — every day from 9 a.m. through 7 p.m. Tedre noted that the playground located on the castle grounds is currently closed due to the emergency situation, however visitors can walk around the park and enjoy two outdoor exhibitions.
Art Museum: We'll wait until emergency situation ends
The Art Museum of Estonia intends to follow ERM and the History Museum's lead. Communications specialist Iiris Viirpalu said that the Art Museum intends to reopen all of its branches — Kumu Art Museum, Kadriorg Art Museum, Niguliste Museum (St. Nicholas' Church), Adamson-Eric Museum and Mikkel Museum — on May 19, following the end of the current emergency situation.
"New exhibitions opened in our branches immediately prior to as well as during the emergency situation, so both permanent exhibitions as well as completely new exhibitions await our visitors in the newly reopened museums," Viirpalu said. "When the emergency situation was declared, the museum quickly shifted online, becoming one of the first to offer curated online tours of various branches' exhibitions. Public and educational programs were brought online, as were e-art classes that will remain available online following the conclusion of the emergency situation as well."
Vabamu prepared to reopen immediately
Vabamu, or the Museum of Occupations and Freedom, has promised to reopen its doors at the first possible opportunity. Vabamu managing director Keiu Telve told ERR that the Estonians are a museum-going people, and the museum finds that it is precisely during difficult times that people need educational and cultural entertainment.
"Under current conditions, museums are the best place for this — we have large spaces, people can keep a distance, and, if necessary, we can create a reservation system to ensure that it is possible to enjoy culture safely," Telve said. "People need museums right now, and we will be there for our visitors at the first possible opportunity."
The managing director found that museums have had the opportunity to prepare for a safe reopening.
"Late last week, the Ministry of Culture sent museums instructions on how we should act upon reopening to visitors, and we have followed this," she said. "We have ordered a larger supply of cleaning supplies to Vabamu, this week we will be procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) for our employees, and we are planning on installing protective barriers at our cash registers. Our main priority is the health and safety of our employees and visitors, and we will initially be even more careful than called for by instructions."
War Museum hoping to reopen next week
Hellar Lill, director of the Estonian War Museum located in Viimsi, just east of Tallinn, likewise confirmed that if museums are permitted to reopen next week, the War Museum, which falls under the remit of the Ministry of Defense, intends to take advantage of the opportunity.
"We will open our doors to visitors on Wednesday, May 13," Lill said. "We are typically open from Wednesday through Sunday. We had already taken additional safety precautions into account for opening and ordered protective barriers and disinfectants. We will be sure to monitor to ensure that there aren't too many visitors in the building at once and that they follow the 2+2 rule and other safety measures."
Road Museum: We'll reopen with start of summer season
Kadri Valner, director of the Estonian Road Museum, which is located in the Põlva County village of Varbuse, said that long before the coronavirus pandemic, the museum had already set the date for the launch of its summer season — May 15, or next Friday.
"We tied this to the traditional Night of Museums, which now won't be taking place in May this time," Valner said. "Thus the emergency situation hasn't impacted our activities very much; we have stuck with our plans to expand our 400-ton garage with another three new vehicles, update our Traffic City and prepare an exhibition on the history of tires."
Valner acknowledged the Ministry of Culture employees who drew up a package of rules and safety precautions that museums must follow upon reopening. "And this has been done in cooperation with museums," she highlighted.
While the old post office building, which houses the horse age exhibit, will remain closed in May, the Road Museum nonetheless intends to open as much as possible.
Safety precautions at museums
Regardless of whether museums reopen next week or the week after, they must nonetheless take additional safety precautions into consideration for both their employees and visitors alike.
Viirpalu said that the Art Museum of Estonia has stepped up both its safety measures (including disinfectants and the frequent cleaning of surfaces and rooms) as well as its visitor restrictions (2+2 requirements, etc.) in order to comply with government and Health Board guidelines and offer a safe experience. The museum is also reorganizing its educational and public events in accordance with the situation.
Tedre added that informational signs have been posted on History Museum grounds and in its buildings, and that disinfectants have been made available and protective barriers installed at its cash registers as well. Employees will also be posted in its museum halls to make adjustments to visitor numbers if necessary.
"In addition to regular cleaning, we will also be cleaning frequently touched surfaces (handrails, elevator buttons, lockers) more often," she said. "We will also collect up all informational papers."
Karis likewise confirmed that the necessary disinfectants and cleaning will be ensured at ERM as well.
According to Valner, in order for a visitor to feel comfortable at the museum, museum employees must feel safe and protected themselves. She noted that museum employees would follow 2+2 guidelines, as would be expected of museum visitors as well, and that the Road Museum has mapped out all locations where disinfectants would be provided.
"People will have access to disposable gloves as well if needed," she added.
For the first half of the upcoming summer season at least, the museum will also be shifting its focus from school field trips and tourist groups to serving families instead, and will adjust museum programming accordingly.
Editor: Aili Vahtla