Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (and its newly affiliated Historic Spanish Point companion campus in Osprey) and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art will reopen to the public May 27, after being closed since mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a welcome return to the experience of strolling amid the flowers and foliage of Selby, the grounds of Historic Spanish Point, and the art of The Ringling. But how will things have changed from the last time we paid these institutions a visit?
According to management of Selby and The Ringling, Phase 1 operations will adhere to plans that focus on the health and safety of both visitors and staff. That means increased sanitization and cleaning, limited occupancy and the closure of select areas and tours at each property, contactless ticket purchasing (and no cash sales) and strong encouragement to practice proper social distancing, hygiene and hand cleaning.
At Selby, the Phase 1 reopening means that only the outdoor spaces of the gardens will be open to visitors—not the Museum of Botany and the Arts, nor the Garden Shop or restaurant. And for the moment, there will be no events, programs or classes scheduled.
“It’s been hard for us not to be a place of respite during this time,” says Selby Gardens president and CEO Jennifer Rominiecki. “I think people want to seek refuge in outdoor spaces. We’ve taken a lot of steps to make visiting a safe experience, for guests and staff, too.”
That means deep cleaning before opening and water fountains closed during, although there will be a limited selection of refreshments available at the Selby House Café, and also onsite at Historic Spanish Point. And good news: Adult general admission is reduced to $15 for now ($10 general admission at Historic Spanish Point).
Rominiecki adds that during the closure, Selby was losing $25,000 a day in earned revenue from admissions and café and shop sales. “But we’ve really benefited from the generosity of the community and philanthropists” to make up some of that loss, she adds. Phase II of Selby’s reopening, when that can take place, will include reopening indoor spaces like the museum at Selby, where the exhibition of works by Salvador Dalí, Gardens of the Mind, has been extended throughout July. (Phase III would, contingent upon CDC guidelines, be business much as usual, with events and classes taking place.)
At The Ringling, the reopening plans call for access to the art museum galleries and to the first floor of the mansion, Ca’ d’Zan, with social distancing and masks on the part of visitors strongly encouraged. (Staff will also wear masks, and there will be limited occupancy and closure of select areas). But because of the interactive nature of exhibits at the Tibbals Center in the Circus Museum, and the nature of business at the museum store and all food venues, those parts of the museum campus will not reopen at this time. (Food and drink carts will be available.)
The Historic Asolo Theater and the Bolger Playspace will remain closed. No docent tours of the art museum will be taking place, and trams will operate only for persons with limited mobility.
According to museum executive director Steven High, visitation to the museum when it closed March 17 was at its peak, especially on the free Mondays, when as many as 5,000 to 7,000 people poured through the doors. Now, a limit of 1,300 to 1,400 daily will be placed on visitors.
Of course, The Ringling has also lost revenue during these weeks of closure. “Earned income [from admissions, etc.] generates 40 percent of our operating budget,” High says. “So, we immediately stopped spending and started fresh,” with a budget slashed from $24 million to $17 million for the coming fiscal year. Luckily, all full-time staff were able to stay on, and time spent without the public on the campus meant extra care and maintenance for the grounds, along with relighting several galleries.
The museum is extending exhibitions already open but not necessarily viewed yet, including Howie Tsui: Retainers of Anarchy and Being Seen: Recent Acquisitions from the Ringling Collection of Photography. The popular exhibit centered on longtime Sarasota artist Syd Solomon will also remain open.
What you won’t see for the near future: any of The Ringling’s performing arts programs in the Historic Asolo Theater, including the yearly Summer Circus Spectacular presented in partnership with Circus Sarasota. Restrictions on capacity make that unworkable. High says he’s hoping they may be able to host the museum’s film series during the winter months.
For complete protocol information and updates on Selby Gardens, visit selby.org; for Historic Spanish Point, historicspanishpoint.org; and for The Ringling, ringling.org. And members, take note: While all three venues reopen to the public May 27, members will be welcomed back a day earlier, Tuesday, May 26; members are asked to reserve online.