'It's a blow to our culture': Several Washington museums close permanently

As the pandemic forced museums to temporarily close for months across Washington, many are now facing financial challenges while trying to welcome back guests.  

At least three Washington museums have shut down permanently due to the pandemic, and those that have reopened say they face an uphill battle to stay afloat.  

“It’s a blow to our culture, it’s a blow to who we are, and when we lose museums everyone loses,” said Sadie Thayer, president of the Washington Museum Association.  

The organization represents 170 museum institutions across Washington. According to a recent survey of 483 arts and culture organization in Washington, 75% report they will have depleted their budget by November 2020. 

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The Bellingham Railroad Museum recently shut down permanently and transferred its items to the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie.  

The Living Computers: Museum + Lab in Seattle became a permanent victim to this pandemic when operators decided the costs would be too high to maintain. 

The Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum also closed, citing Covid-19 as the reason why.  

“There are several museums, mostly historic house museums, that have opted to remain closed because they don’t feel they can safely meet the governor’s reopening protocols,” said Allison Campbell, an outreach member with Washington State Historical Society.  

Campbell has been working with museums and hosting a series of listening sessions online to provide a space to help cultural institutions during these times.  

The Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie shut down for 6 months because of the pandemic, but reopened in September.  

Before they could let guests back through the doors they had to figure out how to have people socially distanced while exploring on their own.  

The museum has now created a one-way pathway for guests to roam around while maintaining social distance, and tickets must be purchased online in advance.  

The museum also reopened its train ride across the upper Snoqualmie valley with Covid-19 safety measures in place.  

Despite the reopening, many museums are only seeing about 25% of their normal visitors for this time of year.   

“So much of our humanity is stored and reflected in museums," said Julianna Verboot with the Washington State Historical Society. “We don’t want to lose that.” 

Other institutions are moving online to host programs and fundraisers, and using the internet to help collect items related to the pandemic.  

For more information on how you can get involved in helping museums in Washington, click here.