North Bay museums shutter again as coronavirus cases spike

Good grief! It’s another closure. The pillars of community culture in the North Bay have halted their reopening plans, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

Sonoma County was ordered to close down many indoor venues — museums, dining and entertainment — Monday after staying on California’s watch list for case spikes. The order tentatively expires on Aug. 2.

Some museums were forced to shutter temporarily again within days of reopening. Among them, the Charles Schulz Museum reopened on July 8 after a four-month hiatus. The Santa Rosa museum plans to reopen in August, after assessing the coronavirus outbreak in the region.

“Our new director, Gina, calls it a zig-zagging opening, like Charlie Brown’s signature shirt,” spokeswoman Stephanie King said, referring to the design pattern on the comic strip hero’s yellow shirt. “We’re trying to stay as nimble as possible. The safety of our patrons comes first.”

This means a hefty online presence, one that started months ago and flourishes to this day.

“We have found it’s a way of keeping people engaged,” King said.

Its Museum At Home page on the website has attracted a broader audience who may have not visited or thought of the museum.

“That’s part of the excitement. We’re getting people (looking) from all over the country,” she said.

Schulz staffers have made the activities fun, with a “How to Draw” series. On Monday, penning Woodstock was the task.

When the museum was open in those five days, King indicated the visitation fluctuated between 60 to 100 guests daily. The attendance turned out to be “lower than expected for summer, but higher than what was imagined.”

Supporters have not wavered on their financial backing.

According to membership manager Renee Donmon, renewals have held steady at about 2,000 — the rate the museum experienced in March when the government-ordered economic shutdown ensued.

The Museum of Sonoma County opened July 9, a day after the neighboring Schulz museum. Now it succumbed to the same order for inside museum visitation. But it has found a place for its guests outside in the sculpture garden.

“At least the outdoor portion will be open to the public,” Executive Director Jeff Nathanson said.

After it closed under the public health order in March, the Smithsonian-affiliated museum took part in a cooperative letter sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom from the California Association of Museums asking for him to categorize museums differently.

“Although all museums are public-facing organizations that serve their communities, the type of experiences that they provide is extremely diverse,” said the letter, dated April 29 and signed by association Executive Director Celeste DeWald.

Time makes a big difference.

Nathanson said there are no known plans to repeat the same type of plea.

“We don’t want to be one of those organizations that are identified as perpetuating the virus. We definitely don’t want to be part of the problem. We all recognize we have to come together to combat the virus,” Nathanson said. “We’re deferring to our health officials.”

Luther Burbank Center for the Arts will also use the outdoors to anchor what the renowned center has to display — in the garden.

The garden, which was formed in 2011, features a dozen California artists and landscaping that references the region’s agricultural heritage. It can be seen beginning July 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free.

“We’re operating more like a park than a museum,” said Kristen Skold, the center’s office manager.

The same goes for museums in other North Bay counties:

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