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Can Massachusetts museums survive amid COVID restrictions? Getting creative may not be enough

Can Massachusetts museums survive amid COVID restrictions? Getting creative may not be enough

In August, legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma and 10,000 Maniacs performed outside at Hancock Shaker Village. Thousands tuned in to hear the performances but only 35 people were in the audience.

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“At one point [a member of 10,000 Maniacs] looked up from his little electric keyboard and said, ‘This is really weird,’” said Jennifer Trainer Thompson, director of Hancock Shaker Village. “And it is weird, but it was necessary.”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, museums are looking for innovative ways to keep their doors open and how to offer relevant programming.

But that hasn’t been easy.

More than six months ago, museums in Massachusetts were forced to close their doors. The temporary closures led to layoffs.

Hancock Shaker Village laid off four full-time employees. They were able to rehire all the full-time staff but out of the usual 35 seasonal workers, they only brought back 12 this year. MASS MoCA laid off 120 employees earlier this year. With the help of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, they were able to begin rehiring. And the Museum of Fine Arts Boston laid off more than 100 employees.

Museums were allowed to reopen in July but with restrictions. Although, not all did.

Worcester’s EcoTarium decided it won’t reopen until at least 2021.

“I think this pandemic isn’t anywhere near over. I don’t agree with the governor’s decision,” president of the EcoTarium Lucy Hale said. “As much as I want us to reopen, I don’t think it’s the best thing in terms of the virus.”

As of Monday, gyms, museums, libraries and driving and flight schools are permitted to increase their capacity to 50% as part of moving to Step 2 of Phase 3. Indoor and outdoor performance venue capacity will also increase to 50%, capped at 250 people. The newest step also

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