Jule Collins Smith Museum reopens

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By Hannah Lester
hlester@opelikaobserver.com

Life begins to move on and places that have been closed since March are reopening, like the Jule Collins Smith Museum.

The museum opened on Aug. 11 and there are new exhibits to see both inside and outside the museum walls.

Although the physical building may have closed in March, the museum was still finding ways to connect with the community.

“We’ve done what I suspect most people have done and certainly what all cultural institutions have done,” said Cindi Malinick, director and chief curator at June Collins Smith Museum. “Which is, we’ve looked inward at things that we needed to tend to that we now had a little bit of time to. We also looked outward, how can we continue to offer engagement opportunities, solace, places to explore during such a difficult time?”

One of these ways of connection was online, Malinick said. The museum went virtual and allowed people to view exhibitions on their computers. There were events too that were held by Zoom.

“We further kind of enlivened the grounds as people could be outside safely,” she said. “We were so delighted to get our interactive play structure installed and up for young people to be able to get a little physical activity.”

Despite still being available to the public virtually, when it was safe to do so, the museum reopened physically.

“It was certainly a quiet place and it felt sad to not have guests coming in and enjoying and learning and all of those things,” Malinick said.

Of course, everything is not as it was. There are restrictions in place, just like at the grocery store, on Auburn University’s campus or anywhere in the state of Alabama.

Guests must wear face masks and keep a distance of six feet from other patrons.

“The first day went great, the first week went great, I mean, it’s gone just wonderfully,” Malinick said.

Other precautions the museum took were to buy some masks to give to guests and create one-way movement in the hallways, entrances and exits.

“From a cultural institution perspective museums are one of the safest places to be if you’re gong to be indoors, right,” Malinick said. “They’re usually very large spaces and we’ve taken out all of the seating, there’s nothing to touch so we’ve been very careful about ensuring, to the extent possible, the safety of our guests.”

Charlotte Hendrix, senior communications and marketing specialist at Jule Collins Smith Museum, said that guest safety was always a priority, even before the pandemic.

The outdoor sculpture exhibition, Out of the Box, has also been extended, she said.

There are also two new exhibits inside, a French poster show and work by Auburn University students.

“I certainly have as I’ve been on the floor, I’ve just been so happy to hear people say that they were so happy that we were open,” Malinick said.

There were a lot of visitors and despite restrictions and distancing, guests still wanted to come. Malinick said that the numbers of guests were similar to what they were in 2019.

“It definitely felt great to be missed and to be needed and needed in this time frame,” Hendrix said.

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