Bettendorf’s Family Museum and Davenport’s Figge Art Museum have taken different approaches to re-opening after shutdowns caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

Since Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed museums to re-open (among other places) on May 22, the Family Museum opened that day, while the Figge will open June 9, following members-only opening June 6 and 7. Kim Kidwell, director of the Family Museum, used the two-month closure to completely clean the facility, do needed renovations and train staff in disinfecting and safety guidelines.

“We have been getting ready to reopen, pretty much over the last month,” she said recently. “There have been countless, endless webinars, Zoom meetings, between children’s museums all over the country, pretty much daily. It was all talking about the best practices. As children’s museums, obviously we are all hands-on. Kids like to touch everything. They like to put everything in their mouths.

“They don’t like to wear masks; you can’t make a two-year-old put a mask on.”

Kim Kidwell

Props like plastic phones and cups that kids would use have been removed, and remaining items are rotated and cleaned constantly, Kidwell said. All staff wear masks, and parents are encouraged, but not required to.

The museum is limiting guests to 75 at a time, and since last Friday’s opening, families have been good about social distancing, health guidelines are posted, and there’s plenty of hand sanitizer available. On May 23, the museum had a total of 90 people, compared to 200-300 on a typical Saturday, Kidwell said.

“When we opened on Friday, we had a line of 15 to 20 people coming in, which was really exciting. Working at a children’s museum, all our staff is, obviously, dealing with families and kids all the time, so we were very excited to see children again here.

Among other children’s museums in Iowa, the Family Museum is among the first to reopen, Kidwell said.

“It’s been really strange working at the museum with no children here for a couple of months. It was really exciting. Parents were very grateful that we were opening and happy about all the cleaning and procedures we had taken to make it safe.”

Keeping busy during shutdown

The Family Museum – city-owned, next to the public library at 2900 Learning Campus Drive – and its staff kept very busy since closing March 16.

“We posted lots of videos on our social media. Just giving parents and families ideas to do of things at home, different projects, different science activities, art activities, some movement, things like that, to help them fill their days with their tiny kids at home,” Kidwell said.

Every Friday, KWQC’s Paula Sands let the museum showcase different ideas for keeping kids occupied during the pandemic and shutdown.

Luckey Climber

“Our main goal was not to sort of bombard everyone with work,” Kidwell said of the online activities. “A lot of our families have elementary-age children, multiple children at multiple grade levels, so the last thing we wanted to do was sort of add to their load of home-schooling everyone was thrown into.

“Our philosophy was, have some fun, and you can learn while you’re having fun,” she said. “Spend some quality time with your kids, use this time to kind of relax and do some fun things. Because for a lot of parents, there was a lot of pressure of getting things done and a lot of concern for the amount of kids had been out of school, the gaps they would have coming into next year. I feel like families really gained a lot of family time and to me, that’s just as valuable.”

“Parents had a hard time to get their kids to do schoolwork at home, because they normally don’t do it at home, for the most part,” Kidwell said. “We tried to keep it light and give them really fun things to do, and take the pressure off. None of it was required.

Since mid-March, “We were very busy during that time, not only providing content, but also reaching out to our members, our volunteers, preschool families, our dance families, who obviously got their year cut short, weren’t allowed to be here,” she said.

They cleaned and disinfected the entire 44,000-square-foot museum, repainted, took everything off the exhibit floor, removed props that were old and beyond repair, repaired other things and worked on some projects that were on the docket for a while, “but were kind of hard to get to when we’re open,” she said. “We had a lot going on.”

They also combined their art and clay shop upstairs into a larger “Imagination Studio,” a $70,000 renovation started before the shutdown. And the long-planned $500,000 Luckey Climber is still under construction in the Great Hall. That should open in mid-June.

The climbers can be found in big-city museums across the country, such as Boston, Columbus, Rochester, and St. Louis, and the Bettendorf Luckey Climber will be the first in Iowa, and the Quad-Cities, and these one-of-a-kind attractions can be found in museums, malls, and theme parks across the globe.

“We’re really excited. It’s unfortunate that everything got shut down, obviously,” Kidwell said. “We understand it, for the health and safety of the community. It was gonna be a pretty big spring for us, with the Climber opening and the Imagination Studio.

“Our Thomas the Train traveling exhibit was supposed to be here now, so we were looking forward to a really fun spring and summer, and then it all of a sudden came to an abrupt halt on March 16th.”

“Thomas & Friends: Explore the Rails” is stuck in New York City, unable to transport here, and will be rescheduled. It was supposed to open here on May 23. “We were on a five-year waiting list for that exhibit. It was so popular and we were so excited to finally get it,” Kidwell said.

Instead, the Family Museum is getting a Curious George exhibit, “Let’s Get Curious,” to open June 6. “Curious George looks really awesome, so I was happy that Minnesota Children’s Museum was able to work with us and get us something,” she said.

Curious George exhibit

That new exhibit features math, science and engineering activities modeled after Curious George’s own adventures, in addition to these other exhibit features:

  • Operate wheels to move Curious George on pulleys from window to window. Climb the fire escape and climb inside to play with color, light and shadow.
  • Play customer or salesperson and explore shape, sorting, weighing and counting with fruit and vegetables.
  • Climb into the construction trailer and design a building, then make use of a bounty of building materials and get to work constructing different structures and using machines to move materials.
  • Enjoy the urban green space: rest or give a hug to a full-size Curious George and take a picture! Our youngest visitors will enjoy our busywall activities for babies and toddlers.
  • Use pipes, ramps, funnels, turntables, bumpers and force to experiment with physics and engineering as you putt through three holes of mini golf.
  • Climb into the rocket Curious George took on his space adventure! Catch a glimpse of George in his space suit then take a picture from the control station and e-mail it home.
  • Take a vacation to the country and visit the farm. Experience cause and effect and use wind power to move yard art like whirligigs, windmills, windsocks, and wind chimes. Build your own whirligig or windsock and care for the farm animals.
  • Learn new things about George when you visit the Museum within the Museum. Follow H.A. and Margret Rey’s work, the escape from France to safety during World War II that saved the Curious George manuscript, and Curious George throughout the years.

When Gov. Reynolds announced May 20 that the state would allow reopening of museums, zoos, and movie theaters, Bettendorf city administrator Decker Ploehn wanted the Family Museum to open right away, Kidwell said, noting their staff had timed cleaning drills, and were trained in cleaning everything at the museum, including recommendations from a representative from Genesis.

On re-opening, “Seventy-five people is really scaling it down for us,” Kidwell said. “We’re really able to spread out between our outdoor space, our Imagination Studio and the galleries. I walked through several times, and families were not congregating. They were playing in their own spaces, moving around pretty freely, so it seems to be a good plan and I think as we ease into it. As we increase our visitor load, as we go through the summer, depending on how we’re feeling about how things are going, make sure we keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Figge to require advance reservations

Unlike the Family Museum, the Figge (225 W. 2nd St., Davenport) will require advance reservations to visit, with free admission the month of June, said executive director Michelle Hargrave.

“We’re excited to welcome the public back through our doors in June. The museum has made health and safety a top priority, and the Figge team has spent the past month creating site-specific plans to safeguard our visitors and staff upon our reopening,” she said.

“This reopening will happen in phases. At this time, we will limit the number of visitors allowed in the museum, and we will close for short windows of time throughout the day to allow for thorough cleaning and disinfecting.”

Michelle Hargrave

Museum hours have been adjusted (from a typical 10 a.m. opening) to 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and 11-8:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Reservations are available for 90-minute slots at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. on Tuesday-Friday. The 11 a.m. slot will be reserved for the those that are vulnerable or high risk. On Thursdays there will also be a 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. slot available for all.

About 100 people maximum will be allowed at a time, and the Figge Café, Family Activity Center and the interactive Studio One space will be closed during June. per time slot.

“We want to test things out, see how things go, and be cautious and conservative at the beginning,” Hargrave said.

Staff will return to the Figge June 1, and all staff and visitors over age three will be required to wear masks in the building. Signage will be posted throughout the four-story museum to remind visitors to socially distance during their visit. Extra hand sanitizing stations will be available throughout the museum.

The Figge board chose the June date to reopen after considering a number of factors, including recommendations from the government and health officials, Hargrave said. That includes Illinois’ shelter-in-place extension through May 30. Gov. J.B. Pritzker eased the order effective this Friday for many businesses statewide, except Chicago, which is following its own timeline.

Illinois has suffered 5,111 total Covid deaths (through May 27), and a majority have been in Cook County, while Iowa has seen 490 deaths. Scott County has 344 confirmed cases, and 9 deaths, while Rock Island County has 686 cases, and 26 deaths.

“Because we have put all these guidelines and policies in place, that has removed a lot of the anxiety that would normally be there,” Hargrave said. “We know that the arts are a vital part of the Quad-Cities and that the Figge provides the community a place to connect, learn, reflect, relax and be entertained. We all feel it’s even more important to continue to offer this to our visitors during this time of uncertainty and anxiety.”

Though the art museum has received corporate sponsorship to offer free admission in the past, it didn’t for this June offering.

“We felt as we reopen, there are a number of people in the community who are suffering financial hardship, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to come to the museum despite that situation,” Hargrave said. “We also wanted to, as we work out our policies and procedures, we wanted to have no-touch, or limited contact at the front desk.”

“We, like all other museums, rely on earned income – such as income we receive from admissions, classes, facility rentals and other things. Those are among the many things that help us keep the lights on, and so we are certainly mindful of those losses,” she said.

July will return to normal pricing — $10 for adults, $6 seniors (60 and older), $6 for high-school and college students with ID, $4 children ages 4-12, free for children under age 4, and free to members.

On-site free Thursday programming will continue to be on hiatus through the month of June.

Virtual offerings a real hit

You can still stay connected and engaged with the Figge’s Virtual Museum at figgeartmuseum.org, which Hargrave said has been very successful.

The platform, which launched in April, was developed as a way for the museum to continue bringing art and people together during the museum’s temporary closure. It provides ways to engage and connect with the museum from the comfort of home with online tours, virtual exhibitions, kids’ and family activities and more.

The Figge during the shutdown also has been active on social media and had lots of response from the public showing off their own artwork (under an online “Community Curated”) and taking photos that reflect or recreate paintings in the museum collection (under “Getting Figge With It.”)

“We got wonderful feedback from the community,” Hargrave said. “They were very appreciative of having these offerings available to them, they could access from the safety of their homes. We had wonderful participation in both our Community Curated exhibition, as well as in Getting Figge With It. People really responded and were incredibly creative. I was very impressed with the way they were able to recreate works in our collection.”

“While there have been many challenges to being closed, this also was an opportunity to shift our business model and explore serving the community in different ways,” she said.

“It was an opportunity to continue to bring art and people together, but really do so in innovative, virtual offerings,” Hargrave noted. “And that was something we really didn’t have a chance to explore prior to that because we were so focused on running the museum and drawing people to the museum, and what was going on at the Figge itself.”

The virtual museum will continue to be expanded, she said.

With the reopening, the following existing Figge exhibits have been extended:

  • Didier William: Lakou – through Aug. 23, 2020 (originally scheduled to close May 31)
  • George Olson: The Found Object – through June 28 (originally through April 19)
  • Henry Dreyfuss: Designs for the Modern Age – through June 7 (originally through May 24)

Hargrave said there are four exhibitions that people will get to see in person for the first time in June, two of which began as online exhibitions earlier this month due to the closure:

  • Seen and Heard: The Art of Empowerment (May 9, 2020-May 2, 2021)
  • QC Pride: Photographs by Andy Abeyta (May 2-Aug. 2, 2020)
  • About Face: Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture (June 20-Aug. 30, 2020)
  • Magnetic West: The Enduring Allure of the American West (June 27-Sept. 20, 2020)

Reservations to visit can be made at figgeartmuseum.org or by calling 563-345-6632.

Advertisement

Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.