Philly cultural institutions are ready for a comeback

The Franklin Institute.

With the second round of closures in the Philadelphia area beginning to ease up this week, many institutions have jumped on the chance to finally open their doors again—hopefully, for good this time. With that hopefulness comes an assortment of guidelines that must be followed and an abundance of creativity that must be entertained, and venues in the city are not holding back. 

According to a release, following the recent temporary closures mandated by state and city officials to limit the spread of COVID-19, in effect since Nov. 20, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, The Barnes Foundation, The Franklin Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have jointly announced plans to reopen in January with continued health and safety measures in place for staff and visitors. Eastern State Penitentiary will then plan to reopen in March and the Rodin Museum will reopen later in the spring.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Melissa Mitman

A joint statement from all of the cultural leaders reads: “With the advent of a new year, we are grateful for the opportunity to welcome our visitors once again. Despite the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the resilience of the cultural sector shines through and cultural experiences remain essential to the well-being of the human spirit, providing inspiration, enrichment, and rejuvenation. Undoubtedly, the role of Philadelphia’s museums and cultural organizations will be a critical one in the region’s recovery.”

The first of these six institutions to open will be The Franklin Institute on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed by the Academy of Natural Sciences on Friday, Jan. 8. The last time the FI reopened in the summer, they also debuted a brand new exhibit, and this time around they have announced plans for another exhibit to take its place in the near future.

“The Presidents by Madame Tussauds” featured life-size wax figures of every American president, plus seven significant historical figures, including Ben Franklin, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Michelle Obama. Although that specific exhibit is not set to reopen, Philadelphians can stay tuned in to the FI next month when they premiere their newest exhibit, “Crayola IDEAworks: The Creativity Exhibition” on Feb. 13. However, other exhibits still open will include The Giant Heart, Electricity, Your Brain, Train Factory, Changing Earth, Amazing Machine, Space Command, the hourly Planetarium shows, hourly Live Science Shows and more. A few exhibits will be remaining closed however including the Air Show, SportZone, Tech Studio, Observatory and the IMAX Theater.

The Barnes Foundation.Michael Perez

Also set to reopen this Friday is The Barnes Foundation. The popular cultural institution also has decided to extend hours on select days to provide additional opportunities for visitors to experience the “Elijah Pierce’s America” exhibition, which first opened in September. Pierce was a virtuoso woodcarver and also a preacher and a barber. Over the course of 50 years, he produced an incredible body of work in moments between cutting hair, and The Barnes was able to amass a good chunk of his collection. Most of what Philadelphians will see is from private collections and this particular exhibit is especially meaningful as it also marks the first major retrospective of Pierce’s work outside his hometown of Columbus for more than 25 years. 

“Pierce’s work is wonderful and joyous and uplifting, and I think really strikes a chord for many of us,” said Dr. Nancy Ireson, Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator at the Barnes, who alongside Dr. Zoé Whitley, Director of Chisenhale Gallery in London, co-curated the exhibit. “Elijah Pierce’s America features more than 100 rarely seen works. His career spans from the 1920s to the 1980s, and he really covers the whole of the American 20th century. So, you have everything in there: You have political events, you have the second World War, you have the fight for Civil Rights in the 60s, you have JFK and Martin Luther King —but you also have popular figures like Popeye, Joe Lewis, Lena Horn and even Warren Beatty, just sort of a whole line-up of familiar figures. A lot of what he does really relates to human experience, whether that’s hope or trying to keep the faith or trying to do the right thing, and I think there really is something for everybody in Pierce’s work and it’s really relatable.” 

Philadelphia Museum of Art. Getty Images

Philadelphians still have a chance to check it all out for themselves as well, the exhibit has been extended through Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the final venue with plans to reopen on Jan. 8, with new Friday through Monday hours and pay-what-you-wish admission on Friday evenings. Lastly, PAFA plans to reopen on Thursday, Jan. 21. 

The cultural institutions along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Eastern State Penitentiary, and PAFA first reopened in late summer, following thorough planning and close coordination with elected officials, medical professionals, and one another. Their plans to reopen comes with precaution, but even as the release states, “The institutions will continue vigilant, carefully developed health and safety protocols as they once again welcome visitors for rejuvenating cultural experiences, with the well-being and safety of staff and visitors as the utmost priority.”

Eastern State Penitentiary. Getty Images

More comprehensive health and safety protocols, as well as full info on hours and dates are posted on each institution’s website.

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