On June 30th, four months after the Cleveland Museum of Art was forced to close due to concerns about Covid-19, their doors reopened to the general public. Lisa Codispoti, Chief People Officer for this beloved Cleveland institution shares the story of how she and a team of co-workers reimaged the visitor experience with their #1 goal in mind: the safety and health of their employees and visitors.
Q. Congrats on the successful re-opening of CMA last month. Can you share some of the details of what went into the planning process?
CMA is so fortunate to have the staff members we do. We have great people and they were up for the challenge. We put together a task force of eight employees who were a cross representation of departments at the art museum, so we were not working in silos. We had input from protective services, facilities, education and programming, visitor services and so forth. We also consulted an infectious diseases doctor who had just retired from the Cleveland Clinic, and as an added bonus, was a member of the Cleveland Museum of Art. He walked through the facility with us and provided valuable insights. For instance, while we would have loved to reopen the cafe at the same time we opened the rest of the museum he showed us how there was virtually no way to safely social distance in this space. We also took his advice on which galleries were too narrow or small to re-open and offer 6′ clearance to visitors and so we created new signage and flow to direct guests thru the opened sections of the museum.
Q. What were some of your other considerations?
Unlike many cultural institutions, the art museum has always been free admission, open to anyone who wants to walk in the front doors. But since we needed to limit the number of visitors to 500 (from a high water mark of up to 5,000 on a busy summer day) we augmented the on-line ticketing system we use for special exhibitions and events to include general admission into the museum. Guests now reserve up to 8 tickets on line in advance and it’s working beautifully so far.
And, we understand that not everyone wants to wear a mask or have their temperatures taken, so we worked to make that as non-intrusive as possible. We installed technology that can scan 16 people at once as they enter the museum, and those who need a secondary screening for body temperatures are privately rescanned. The temperature scanning technology works great and often, guests don’t even notice that their temperature has been taken. Masks are mandatory at the museum, but if you arrive without one, you can purchase a CMA logoed mask from us!
We also had to consider how to do a no-touch parking experience, and what happens if a visitor forgot to pre-pay for parking and how we can facilitate that process in the easiest way possible. We have to work with every scenario so everyone feels welcome.
We waited until we redesigned the layout of the gift store before we reopened that part of the museum as well. I’m delighted to say that we re-opened the store on July 14th and we have on-line delivery and curbside pickup to make it as easy as possible for our visitors to purchase items from the museum.
And, while there is currently no educational programming or docent led tours, you can always access our collection on-line and attend virtual presentations of programs and lectures. Even MIX, our monthly happy hour and dance party, continues to take place virtually and has been well attended because I think people are craving connections.
Q. You were in the middle of moving to Cleveland yourself when all of this planning was taking place. How was your own relocation from Navarre, Ohio to Cleveland Heights impacted by this global pandemic?
There are some good things happening as a result of Covid-19, one is being able to buy all my furniture on-line. I have a good friend who owns a shop in Canton named Laura of Pembroke and they just opened their second location in the Pinecrest shopping area in Orange Village. She walked through the store Facetiming me, even sitting in chairs to describe their comfort level. did. I trusted her opinion and all my furniture is great. I am saying this is a great way to shop! Covid19 did delay my move a few months, but I am now happily settled and loving the 10 minute drive to the museum rather than the hour long commute I used to have.
You have two boys in school whose lives were disrupted by the pandemic. Was that complicated?
My older son is enrolled at Kent State University and like many others had to finish up the spring semester from home. My younger son is going into his senior year in high school and this fall will be taking a mix of classes in person and on-line including college level classes from John Carroll so that he will graduate in 2021 from Cleveland Heights High School.
Q. How good does it feel to have your musuem open back up the public again?