Museum Aims to Reopen in January 2021

Science never stops, even while doors are closed

Update as of December 2020: At this time, public health and safety mandates are still in place that require museums to be closed. As a result, we will postpone our early January 2021 reopening plans. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and reopen as soon as we are able to do so safely. Once restrictions are lifted, The Nat will need several weeks to schedule staff and prepare the building for reopening. We look forward to welcoming you back.

The board and leadership of the San Diego Natural History Museum have made some strategic decisions that will allow us to emerge from the pandemic as a stronger, more vibrant organization. 

One of the primary decisions is to delay reopening the Museum to the public until after the first of the year (assuming public health orders allow it). This nearly five-month period will allow us to accomplish a wide range of projects and reopen with new programs and exhibition spaces.   

Careful budgeting and significant philanthropic support are allowing us to retain our current full-time staff, who will be devoted to connecting schools and our community to the remarkable nature around us, continuing our vital research and conservation work, and developing a new blended model of exciting onsite, online, and nature-based activities.

The Museum’s work is much larger than the building itself, and our staff have been demonstrating that “science never stops” even when the doors are closed. 

As with everything else COVID-related, we need to remain flexible and agile in our planning. We may consider opening for select dates around the holidays if museums are allowed to reopen earlier, and if we determine it is safe.

While we miss seeing our visitors, we know this is the best possible course. We are leading with our heads and our hearts—as well as with science and data. The decision to delay the public reopening was made for several reasons: 

  • To protect our most vulnerable communities, and support efforts to contain the spread; 
  • To use our resources most effectively, opening when visitors are more ready to come back (museums currently open are seeing only a fraction of their normal number of visitors); 
  • And to give leadership and staff concerted time to re-envision the museum’s experiences for the pandemic era and beyond. 

“The museum we closed in March will not be the same museum we reopen,” said Judy Gradwohl, president and CEO of The Nat. “Our future will combine the best of our work before and during the pandemic in a hybrid model that connects people with the wonder of nature on-site, online, and out in nature.” 

Some projects planned during this time include:  

  • Developing distance learning models and digital materials for students and teachers
  • Increasing digital options for the community to discuss science and conservation, and engage with our staff 
  • Kicking off a community science project focused on San Diego’s canyons
  • Re-envisioning our Canyoneers program, which will shift from in-person guided hikes to virtual hikes and curated trail recommendations 
  • Readying the new exhibition California Blooming for our reopening
  • Reimagining a new combined museum café and retail store experience, and developing a new ecommerce platform to support our publications and museum-branded products
  • Completing the master plan for interpretive gardens outside the building, and a feasibility study for creating a visible collections storage area in our lower level 
  • Installing a new ADA ramp at our east entrance to provide accessible entry for staff and volunteers and help with transporting large fossils and specimens from our collection
  • Converting a row of staff offices on the fourth floor into a gallery for a future exhibition
  • Seeking new sources of grant and gift funding, and planning for our 150th anniversary in 2024

We are able to pursue this option by retaining approximately 100 of our full-time and part-time staff who will continue to work remotely, on-site or in the field across San Diego County during the extended closure. Several industries are experiencing difficulties and we want to acknowledge that ours is no different. Over the last two months, the Museum had to lay off and furlough some positions, but we do not anticipate further staffing changes at this time. 

The plan is that the Museum will stay active and engaged with our members, supporters, visitors, staff, and volunteers, and emerge from this extended closure revitalized and stronger than we are now.  

This was not an easy or obvious decision, but it makes good sense for the Museum at this point in time. “I look forward to seeing how our creative and energetic staff will make the most of the next five months,” said Gradwohl. “To borrow an analogy from the monarch butterflies I’ve been rearing this summer, I look at this extended closure and our eventual reopening as emerging from a chrysalis, not a hibernation.”


Posted by The Nat.

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