Unlike many of us, Irvin Lippman still goes to the office every morning. While most of his staff telecommutes—he hasn’t had to lay off anybody yet—the executive director of the Boca Raton Museum of Art presides over an in-person skeleton crew because, as he says, the work continues at an institution nearing the end of a multiyear renovation.
Construction, considered an essential business under the state’s closure exemptions, goes on at the de-peopled museum, with a new entryway and education center in the works. The latter will feature an 18,000-lumen projector to screen art videos; the refurbished lobby will include the commissioned sculpture “Big Brother,” a 10-foot-long chandelier from artist Song Dong composed of cast surveillance cameras.
“We’re rethinking the sculpture garden also, because I think having those public spaces is going to become even more important as we look forward in the next year,” Lippman says.
Progress on the renovations is running a month behind, but if there’s an ideal moment to take one’s time, it’s this national breather we’re all forced to endure. “I don’t have to manage expectations,” Lippman says. “No one’s getting anxious about it.”
In the meantime, the Boca Museum was one of the first arts institutions to quickly adapt to free virtual programming, launching Boca Museum at Home, “Keep Kids Smart with ART” online activities, string music “at a distance” and virtual tours of its latest exhibitions, all accessible through its vibrant social media pages. These initatives drew national and international news coverage from Forbes to the New York Times to Al Jazeera.
“I got some statistic recently that we’ve had something like 45,000 hits on our social media in the last month,” Lippman says. “With the Al Jazeera and various international publications, it’s been something like a billion impressions, whatever that means.”
The state’s shutdown occurred just when the Boca Museum was prepared to open two exhibitions: “Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers” and “Eye to I: Self-Portraits From the National Portrait Gallery.” While online visitors can “e-tour” the galleries, Lippman has arranged extensions of these exhibits once the museum reopens. Originally scheduled to close in the summer, the exhibitions will now run through Sept. 20, hopefully giving patrons plenty of time to absorb them in person, albeit in different circumstances than they’re used to.
“We have to make sure that when we do reopen, hopefully sooner than later, we adjust to make people feel comfortable and safe. We’ll just see what the business conditions dictate. I’m an optimist at heart, but in this situation one has to be a realist as well.
“People keep their social distance anyhow in museums,” Lippman adds. “I doubt we’ll have group tours, and it will be a while before we want to schedule public lectures or concerts as we’d been doing. But I believe that once we do reopen, I people will look for a place to enjoy, and escape to—and I believe find ways to appreciate us more then they ever had before.”