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Located In A Mall, The Museum Of African American Art Faces Unique Reopening Challenges

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A colorful quilt on display in thw Museum of African American Art traces a family lineage. The top right square reads "Maternal Family History- Jones- son of Joan. Origin Welsh. Acquisition- Slavery . Settled in Milo Oklahoma after Slavery." (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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As local museums await the green light from L.A. County health officials to reopen, the Museum of African American Art is in a unique situation. Located inside the Macy's at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, would-be visitors can shop at the store, which is open at 25% capacity, but cannot view the museum’s exhibits.

Revenue from rentals, gift shop sales, and memberships is down 68%. The museum has only been able to stay afloat thanks, in part, to a small recovery grant from California Humanities and some corporate grants.

Keasha Dumas Heath, the museum’s executive director, said she feels like the museum fell through the cracks of the reopening guidelines.

"We're a small, nonprofit organization,” she said. “We are not funded by the county or the state, we don't have an endowment. We don't run very well on empty.”

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Reopening will involve significant expenses, including plexiglass barriers and hand sanitizing stations. But even being able to reopen at 25% capacity would help, after being closed for almost a year.

"There was this belief ... that museums might attract more tourists, travelers, people visiting from out of state or from outside of the country” who could possibly transmit the coronavirus, said Heath. “Their premise was, in part, that visitors to retail spaces were a different demographic from museum visitors. But in our case, the retail shoppers are the exact same folks who come into our museum."

Once L.A. County moves to the less-restrictive red tier of the state's reopening framework, indoor museums can reopen at limited capacity. Health officials are expected to make an announcement regarding that move in the next few days.

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