After going virtual for three months, two cultural facilities in Okotoks will reopen their doors June 17 in what will initially be a hands-off experience for visitors.
All interactive elements of the Okotoks Museum & Archives’ exhibits - from hand-crank phones to the piano - will be removed or cordoned off in light of safety regulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, said museum specialist Kathy Coutts.
“Safety is our top priority and we are providing a safe environment for them when they return,” said Coutts. “We’ve made numerous changes to adhere to the Alberta Health Services guidelines.”
Among the changes is closing the restrooms and attic playhouse, limiting the number of visitors to allow for physical distancing, implementing directional signage through the facility, supplying hand sanitizing stations and installing Plexiglas at the front desk.
In addition, cleaning will occur between visitors, before the doors open and after they close, and visitors will be encouraged to wear masks, Coutts said.
“We want to reassure our visitors that we are providing a safe environment for them when they come to visit,” she said. “It’s been a long three months. I am looking forward to welcoming people back to the museum.”
While summer is typically the busiest time at the museum for out of town visitors, Coutts said she’s unsure what to expect this year.
“Some people have already phoned to find out what our hours are going to be and some people might not be ready yet to come out and tour a museum,” she said. “Therefore, we are continuing to be active on social media and try to continue to connect with our audience in a virtual way until people are ready to come back.”
Exhibits greeting visitors this summer will include the continuation of the Roaring 20s exhibit and the Lower Okotoks School exhibit.
The museum’s virtual exhibits celebrating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of allied prisoners of war and the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War will be turned into physical exhibits for the June 17 opening, said Coutts.
“This allows us to add artifacts to help round out the story which we couldn’t do with the virtual exhibits,” she said.
Coutts is inviting residents to bring in any artifacts they discovered while spring cleaning that they want to donate to the museum or any COVID-19 related stories or artifacts.
Similar to the museum, preparations are also underway to open the Okotoks Art Gallery with some major changes.
Allan Boss, Town of Okotoks culture and heritage manager, said to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 the washrooms will be closed to the public, visitors will be limited, Plexiglas barriers will be in place, staff will wear personal protective gear and visitors will be encouraged to wear masks.
“We’re doing a lot of things to try and minimize the risk for everybody,” he said. “We have to make sure everybody is safe.”
Although art galleries were given the go-ahead from the Province to open on May 14, Boss said it wasn’t as simple as opening up a privately-owned gallery.
“Because we’re the Town of Okotoks we had to figure out what we’re doing as an organization,” he said. “We had some pretty serious conversations on what that might look like.”
Boss said discussions also took place around what to exhibit in the gallery. While exhibits are planned about a year in advance, getting artists to bring their art to the gallery wasn’t an immediate option, he said.
“Because everything is limited with travel and interactions with people we didn’t know what that was going to look like the next little while,” he said. “We made a decision to postpone our exhibits for the rest of the year and support our local artists and promote their work and provide a venue for them to sell their wares.”
The Okotoks Art Gallery is hosting its Stronger Together Member Show and Sale which will feature arts and crafts from more than half of the gallery’s approximately 60 members for the remaining of the year, said Boss.
“Because of the isolation we’ve got all of these artists who have been home creating and we’ve been getting new members phoning and signing up,” he said.
Boss said the artists will receive 75 per cent of their sales.
The Okotoks Art Gallery and Okotoks Museum & Archives will initially be open Wednesdays to Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To learn about virtual events and classes for both facilities click here or visit Facebook or Instagram at @OkotoksCulture.
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