Most Denver Museums Will Close Under Level Red COVID Guidelines

The Clyfford Still Museum is among those that will be forced to close as Denver goes to Level Red.
The Clyfford Still Museum is among those that will be forced to close as Denver goes to Level Red. Clyfford Still Museum
Since Governor Jared Polis announced that Colorado would be ratcheting up restrictions in counties that qualify for Level Red on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's COVID-19 dial — and those fifteen counties include Denver County — leaders at museums and cultural institutions in the Mile High City have been wondering whether they can stay open, and are looking for answers from the city.

Clarity is coming this afternoon.

At 2:30 p.m. on November 18, Denver Arts & Venues Executive Director Ginger White and the Denver City Attorney's Office will meet with museum and cultural institution leadership to deliver some bad news: Unless they have already been granted a specific variance by the state, their day-to-day operations will be considered indoor events, which are not allowed under the Level Red guidelines...and they will have to close.

"At first blush, it’s pretty clear museums are considered indoor events, and indoor events that don’t have a variance have to cancel or close," explains White, who has been consulting with the city's attorneys. "That’s how we’re interpreting it."

Institutions like the Clyfford Still Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art will be mandated to temporarily close on November 20.

"The only museums that have variances are Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and the Denver Art Museum," says White. The CDPHE had also granted variances for the Denver Zoo and the Denver Botanic Gardens earlier this year, but because most of their offerings are outdoors, they're under a separate set of guidelines.

"According to the state’s dial and Level Red, [variances are] going to be re-evaluated," says White. "I don’t know the timeline for those re-evaluations and what the outcome would be from that. [The state has] not committed to saying 'Yes, you can stay open.'"

The institutions with specific variances plan to operate as long as they can, but will also adapt to any emerging state guidelines.

"Denver Zoo remains open to the public, vigilantly implementing and enforcing the extensive health and safety measures that have been in place since we reopened in June," says communications director Jake Kubié. "We are frequently in touch with state and city health officials, and will make adjustments as needed to do our part to protect the community from the spread of COVID-19 and comply with any new regulations and recommendations. As we have done in the past, we are able to make changes quickly across our eighty-acre outdoor campus to further protect our guests, staff, and animals."

On November 17, when Mayor Michael Hancock acknowledged that Denver is going to Level Red, the Denver Art Museum issued the following statement:

The museum is aware of the new guidance related to health and safety protocols for COVID-19. While the news conference did not indicate any specific impacts to the Denver Art Museum’s operations, we are seeking clarification from City and State officials to ensure we are taking the right steps. The museum will continue to operate on current reduced capacity, and continue to focus on creating the safest possible in-person environment to experience art.

Additionally, the museum has developed a set of online and virtual resources to stoke creativity during this time. Museum from Home online resources offer videos, tours, hands-on projects and more. Furthermore, the Creativity Resource site includes videos, educational resources and online lesson plans for parents and kids to work with together—as well as other exciting digital content related to the Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism exhibition.

We will continue to monitor the situation and will update the museum’s website and social media channels accordingly. For those who wish to reschedule their visit or would like a refund, we encourage ticketholders to contact [email protected] or call 720-913-0130. 
Under Level Red, indoor concerts are also prohibited for the time being. Paula Vrakas, owner of the Broadway Roxy, says that she will have to call off more than twenty concerts, lay off staff and likely not reopen until 2021.

Chris Zacher, co-captain of the National Independent Venue Association's Colorado chapter and head of Levitt Pavilion Denver, says that it was clear further restrictions were coming if Colorado didn't manage to reverse the uptick in the virus.

"The Governor's COVID-19 team warned us weeks ago that the case count was rising and that the worst of the pandemic was yet to come," he explains. "We must band together as a community and follow the guidelines in place. Science is the only path to saving lives and allowing us to return to the lives we once knew."

Many Denver cultural institutions will go on lockdown the same week that the American Alliance of Museums reported that a third of all museums in the United States are at risk of closing permanently, and most are facing massive cuts.

“The current situation is not sustainable, especially when over half of museums have less than six months of financial savings left to survive,” AAM's Susie Wilkening said in a statement. “While museums are creatively finding ways to replace the traditional revenue model, they are falling short of in-person visits and events. As an example, on average, virtual fundraising events fell short of goals for the original in-person events by 34 percent.”

In short: If you're looking to renew your membership or donate to your favorite museums, get to it before it's too late. 
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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris