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Museums in Southern California — and Orange County in particular — have been hard hit by the yearlong closures due to COVID-19.

But slowly, slowly, they are opening back up again, with safety protocols and 25% limited capacity in place. Here’s a look at a couple of Orange County museums and one city-run art gallery that have opened or are opening soon.  

Bowers Museum

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana reopened on Wednesday, St. Patrick’s Day. It was exactly one year to the date that Orange County’s largest museum was originally forced to close due to COVID-19 restrictions.

There was a brief window of time in September through December, when OC inched into the red tier, that the museum was able to reopen at 25% capacity, but everything shut down again in early December.

Now that its doors are open again, the museum has extended the exhibition, “Inside the Walt Disney Archives: 50 Years of Preserving the Magic” through June 20. The museum says this will be the final extension for the exhibit, which has already been extended twice.

The museum is exercising safety precautions inside and outside its facilities, including limiting the number of guests for its micro weddings and other outdoor rentals.

Indoors, the Bowers will reopen its galleries at 25% capacity, in accordance with the red tier as articulated in the state “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”

Tickets will be timed, and temperature checks will be administered for all visitors and staff. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted onsite and will be advised to immediately seek medical attention.

Also, decals have been placed inside to enforce social distancing, as well as additional hand sanitizing stations. All visitors are required to wear masks, and Plexiglas shields have been installed at transaction areas. The museum has increased its cleaning schedule, and has removed drinking fountains, along with high-touch and interactive gallery elements.

“I’m very happy with it,” Bowers president Peter Keller said about the opening and safety measures. He mentioned that two recent German studies found that museums are among the safest public spaces in the world to visit during pandemics such as COVID-19.

“People don’t touch anything, and it’s not densely crowded,” Keller said. “It’s much less crowded, compared to going to Costco.”

The Bowers has also opened a new exhibition, “Treasures in Gold & Jade: Masterworks from Taiwan,” which features 27 jade carvings by Huang Fu Shou and 17 sculptures with gold by Wu Ching.

Tickets for “Inside the Walt Disney Archives” (includes general admission) are $25 for adults on weekends, $23 on weekdays. Only general admission tickets are $15 for adults on weekends, $13 on weekdays.

The museum is offering free admission for all healthcare and emergency service workers with valid ID. Also, the museum is offering 20% off purchases at the Gallery Store through March 21 onsite and online. Visit bowers.org for details.

Laguna Art Museum

The Laguna Art Museum is planning to reopen on Friday, March 26. The museum on Cliff Drive and North Coast Highway is extending its exhibition, “Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns,” through Oct. 24. It was original supposed to close on April 4.

“We are delighted to reopen next week, especially because we can finally welcome visitors to ‘Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns.’ The exhibition was installed in early December, while museums were closed,” said Cody Lee, director of communications for LAM.

“It would have been so disappointing if we stayed closed …. Wayne Thiebaud is one of California’s most beloved artists, and this series of paintings has inspired our recent online content with virtual tours, art-making projects, and educational programs. There are more than 40 works here that have rarely been seen before, so it’s a really special show. We also have an exhibition of photographs by Jacques Garnier and a new installation of works selected from the museum’s permanent collection, so we’re opening a lot at once!

“The staff has been as busy as ever while we were closed, but welcoming visitors to the museum is what we’ve been missing and very much what we’ve been looking forward to,” Lee said.

Advance tickets for timed entry to LAM are required for visitors, as capacity is limited at 25 percent. The tickets are available on the museum’s website.

Other health and safety protocols will include mandatory face masks, contactless temperature checks, physical distancing reminders, and increased cleaning and sanitization. Guided tours are not being offered at this time, and events and programs will continue online rather than in-person.

Known for his still lifes of pies, cakes, pastries, candies and other objects, Thiebaud is one of the more celebrated artists living today. His work is often associated with Pop Art, although he has done abstract work and some of his work predates Pop Art.

The 100-year-old artist has made dozens of paintings, drawings and etchings of clowns over the past seven years. The work is influenced by his love of the circus during his boyhood in Long Beach.

Laguna Art Museum is still seeking a director after the retirement of Malcolm Warner on Dec. 31. According to Lee, the museum’s board of trustees formed a search committee which hired Koya Partners, the same executive search and advising firm that the Orange County Museum of Art hired to find its new director and CEO, Heidi Zuckerman, who started Feb. 8.

No announcement about a new director has been made yet, Lee siad.

Brea Art Gallery

OCMAExpand, the temporary space for OCMA in Santa Ana, remains closed as the museum awaits completion of its new, 53,000-square-foot building at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.  The $75 million structure, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and his firm Morphosis, is definitely taking shape, yet it won’t open until 2022, according to the most recent information released by the museum.

Meanwhile, one of OC’s hidden gems, the City of Brea Art Gallery, has been quietly open and operating as a retail space since January.

The “Taking Up Space” group show at the City of Brea Art Gallery features 10 women artists. It’s open through March 26. Credit: Image courtesy of Brea Art Gallery.

COVID safety protocols are in place, such as limited capacity, masks, social distancing and temperature checks upon entry.

The group show “Taking Up Space” features 10 women artists who share their stories, cultures and perspectives through their artistic practice. The exhibit runs through March 26.

Next on the schedule is “Made in California,” the annual juried exhibition showcasing artwork from all over the Golden State. That group show is scheduled for April 24-June 18.

Hours are noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. For more information, visit breaartgallery.com.

Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at rchang@voiceofoc.org.

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