The EGOpro Social Distancing wearable tag (courtesy of Advanced Microwave Engineering)

Museums in New York are beginning to prepare for reopening with new safety protocols to ensure the well-being of their staff and visitors. The American Alliance of Museums has released reopening safety guidelines that include issuing timed tickets, limiting the number of visitors, and placing hand sanitizer stations, among other recommendations. But at Magazzino Italian Art in the Hudson Valley, management believes that a novel virus requires novel solutions. Therefore, the museum will be the first in the nation to require visitors to wear special social-distancing devices that will vibrate and flash if they come too close to one another.

Magazzino is currently closed, awaiting instructions from the New York state government on the reopening of cultural institutions in the Mid-Hudson region. Phase one of the reopening — which allows construction, agriculture, in-store and curbside retail pick-up, manufacturing, and wholesale trade to resume — started yesterday, May 26, in the area. Magazzino’s director Vittorio Calabrese estimates that phase four won’t be until mid-July. That is the final phase that allows schools, and arts, entertainment, and recreation businesses to reopen.

“This is the time to imagine and design protocols for reopening so that they can be implemented after the lockdown,” Calabrese told Hyperallergic in an interview.

Once it reopens, the museum will be providing visitors with wearable EGOpro Active Tags, developed by the Italian company Advanced Microwave Engineering (AME) and the American manufacturer Advanced Industrial Marketing (AIM).

The device utilizes UWB (Ultra-Wideband) radio technology to measure the distance between two tags. When the tags are closer than the recommended safe distance, they vibrate and flash a red LED light to alert visitors that they have breached a minimum safe distance.

In the case of a pre-approved group, the tags can be recalibrated so that members of the group can tour the gallery together without setting off each other’s alarm. The museum reassures the public that the device does not track or store individuals’ movements or data, and that it emits just one-tenth of the radioactive waves of mobile phones. Furthermore, the devices will be regularly sanitized.

“We’ve been hearing concerns in Italy about privacy and tracking, so we wanted to avoid using apps that would force our visitors to use their cellphones and make them feel uncomfortable during their visit,” Calabrese said.

“We wanted a device that would be easy to use and that will allow our staff and visitors to worry less about the distance and enjoy the art more.”

Magazzino of Italian Art in the Hudson Valley (photo by Marco Anelli)

In addition to the wearable tags, the 20,000 square foot museum will install sensors in highly trafficked areas, like entrances and bathrooms, to ensure social distancing is maintained. The number of visitors will likely be reduced to 20% of the normal capacity, according to Calabrese.

The mandatory use of the tags and the reduced number of visitors are part of a series of safety measures that Magazzino will be implementing. Others include a mandatory online reservation system, sanitation stations, regular cleaning of the space throughout hours of operation, contactless ticket exchange, mandatory use of masks, and temperature checks. The use of shuttle buses and coat check services will be suspended.

Marco Bernacchioni, a representative of AME, told Hyperallergic in an email that the company’s museum clients also include the Opera del Duomo di Firenze, which has already reopened, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which will reopen this Saturday with the new tags.

Calabrese said he’s been receiving calls from other American museums asking about the wearable tags since he made the announcement earlier this month.

“A small institution like ours can be a case study for bigger institutions to look at how a visitor experience like the one we designed would work both for the staff and for the visitors,” he said.

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...