As Arts Spaces Reopen, What’s Changed?

This fall, some arts and cultural spaces began reopening in a world drastically changed by the past seven months. ArtsFund’s fall snapshot survey found that 27% of responding organizations had been able to reopen in accordance with public health guidelines. Those allowed to reopen during the surveying period include museums, cultural and heritage organizations, and zoos. Since the data collection period completed, movie theaters have also been approved to open under Safe Start mandates.

The ability to connect with audiences, and in some instances, to welcome patrons back into their physical spaces, is tantamount to the survival of many arts and cultural organizations. The reopening process officially began in King County on August 20 when Gov. Jay Inslee gave the green light for museums to open (with restrictions) as part of Phase 2 of his Safe Start Washington reopening plan. Among other cautionary measures, museum capacity is limited to 25 percent and patrons must wear cloth face coverings at all times. While we understand that not all our arts and cultural partners are able to reopen their doors to the public, we encourage people to visit and support the ones that can, and keep in touch with your favorite organizations to learn more about their safe-reopening plans.

Seattle Art Museum

ArtsFund has heard from many of our Cultural Partners about the extensive care, consideration, and safety protocols they have implemented to be able to welcome audiences back while protecting the health of staff and patrons. Organizations like Seattle Art Museum, which re-opened the downtown venue on September 11, have compiled extensive information to let guests know exactly what to expect upon return. New measures include a new timed ticketing system that ensures the museum remains at a safe capacity, rigorous cleaning procedures using EPA registered disinfectants throughout the museum, the removal of shared materials from the galleries.

While not yet re-opened for audiences in the hall, Krishna Thiagarajan, President & CEO of Seattle Symphony, stated, “To share live performances again with audiences in Seattle and beyond, we effectively had to turn Benaroya Hall into a production studio with hospital-grade air filtration. Having watched the science of COVID-19 develop in real time this year, we approach every decision with a healthy dose of caution.”

Thiagarajan continued, “Our primary concern as we proceed with reopening is making sure our procedures align with the latest discoveries and fulfilling our obligation to protect our employees and respect their comfort with pandemic protocols. The way everyone at the Seattle Symphony–from musicians to staff to board–has embraced the creative Seattle spirit to tackle each challenge is what has allowed us to find a way forward.”

Simone Porter performs with Seattle Symphony musicians at Benaroya Hall, conducted by Shiyeon Sung, photo by James Holt, courtesy of Seattle Symphony.

Other organizations, like On the Boards, have also embraced socially distanced programming with their ongoing exploration of the experimental theatre piece A Thousand Ways. The three-part performance based around encounters between two strangers has been designed in response to social distancing rules. Seattle audiences sold out the first installment, Part One: A Phone Call, which On the Boards presented in September. The next iteration, Part Two: An Encounter, opens November 5, and tickets are on sale now.

Whether it is digitally or in-person, we encourage everyone to explore what these organizations have to offer and support this dynamic, Puget Sound arts community. We hope that you have the opportunity to experience all the work that these organizations–both virtual and in-person—are putting into safely welcoming back the public.


Check out Visit Seattle for a regularly updated list of reopened and reopening museums.

Learn more about Seattle Symphony’s digital and in-person programming at

Learn more about Seattle Art Museum’s current offerings at

Learn more about On the Boards’ programming at

Read the full findings of ArtsFund’s fall sector data snapshot here.

ArtsFund has partnered with Encore Media on a new museum guide, arriving in mailboxes soon.