Oregon ArtsWatch DramaWatch Marty Hughley

COVID-19: Art & history museums, libraries shut down

The museums and library system join a cascade of cultural groups shutting down or canceling events.


Response in Oregon to the international coronavirus crisis escalated significantly Friday when both the Portland Art Museum and the Oregon Historical Society, anchors with Portland’5 Centers for the Performing Arts of downtown’s cultural district, announced they would shut their doors temporarily. Perhaps more drastically, Multnomah County Library shut down all of its locations until further notice.

UPDATE: The two biggest museums in the Willamette Valley south of Portland also have announced they’re closing. In Eugene, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon will be shut down at least through April 10. And in Salem, Willamette University’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art will remain open Saturday and Sunday and then shut down beginning Monday, March 16, at least through April 12. While both museums are connected to universities, they are also the de facto art museums for their regions, and their closures affect large populations.

UPDATE 2: Late Saturday afternoon Maryhill Museum of Art, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge, announced it will remain closed until further notice. On Friday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban throughout the state for the next six weeks of gatherings of more than 250 people.

Robert Colescott, “Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Upside Down Jesus aThe final four days of the fnd the Politics of Survival,” 1987, acrylic on canvas, Museum purchase: Robert Hale Ellis Jr. Fund for the Blanche Eloise Day Ellis and Robert Hale Ellis Memorial Collection, © 1987 Robert Colescott. In the Portland Art Museum’s shows “Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott,” through May 17. The museum will be closed at least until April 1.

The Portland Art Museum and its Northwest Film Center will be closed until April 1, the museum announced late Friday afternoon. The final four days of the film center’s Portland International Film Festival already had been canceled. The history center announced earlier in the day that it will close its doors Saturday through March 29. Extensions of the shutdowns are, of course, possible depending on the spread or containment of the COVID-19 virus. The performing arts centers already had announced that all events in Keller Auditorium, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and the Newmark Theatre would be shut down for the next four weeks.

The library system’s shutdown, in addition to inconveniencing readers, is a blow to the county’s poor and homeless populations, who often use its Internet connections or take refuge inside the buildings. “We have reached a critical point where we believe we must take swift action to help curb the spread of the virus,” Director of Libraries Vailey Oehlke said in a statement. The system’s digital library resources will remain in operation.

The closures follow many other cancellations or postponements already announced. Many theater companies, for instance, including Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre, Broadway Rose, Oregon Children’s Theatre, CoHo, Hand2Mouth, Third Rail, and Theatre Vertigo, have canceled productions. In Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has canceled all performances at least through April 8. The White Bird dance series has postponed until the 2020-21 season its scheduled April 2-4 performances of Camille A. Brown & Dancers. BodyVox dance and Chamber Music Northwest have postponed their collaboration NINETEEN*TWENTY until April 30-May 3.

Many musical concerts and productions – including a run of Oregon Symphony performances and Portland Opera’s production of Vivaldi’s Bajazet – have been canceled. You can read about other cancellations in the ArtsWatch stories On with the show? Hold On. Really. and MusicWatch Weekly: Stay home! They are far from complete: New cancellations have been arriving in clusters as arts groups assess the health crisis. One highly anticipated concert, Saturday night’s Cappella Romana choral performance of Tchaikovsky’s Divine Liturgy, will not be performed to a live audience but will be live-streamed so audiences can listen from home.

The rush of shutdowns follows Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s order late Wednesday banning all public gatherings of more than 250 people in the state for at least four weeks. On Thursday, Brown expanded the shutdowns to include all K-12 public schools in Oregon from Monday, March 16, until at least the end of the month. For the duration, fourteen schools scattered around the city will provide free meals for kids who need them, The Oregonian/Oregon Live reports.

If you’re planning to attend any public event, cultural or not, check the sponsoring organization’s web site or phone first to make sure it’s actually happening. Take all necessary health precautions. And think about whether you really need to go out, after all.

Senior Editor

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."