Masked visitors at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's reopening in August (photo by Hakim Bishara for Hyperallergic)

The days of deserted galleries and empty enclosures at New York’s cultural institutions may soon be over. Starting April 26, museums and zoos will be allowed to increase their visitor capacity to 50% after operating with a 25% maximum since August 2020.

The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan confirmed that it will return to 50% visitor capacity beginning Monday, April 26, with visitors still be required to reserve a timed ticket in advance. The Guggenheim Museum, Metropolitan Museum, New Museum, and Whitney Museum told Hyperallergic that they continue to deliberate their safety plans and do not yet have official plans to expand visitor capacity to 50%.

Many of the city’s cultural institutions were shuttered from March through August due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The long-term closures were devastating for the city’s cultural economy. As of July 2020, over 15,000 workers had been laid off from 810 cultural organizations throughout the five boroughs, and by February of this year, two-thirds of the city’s arts and recreation jobs had been eliminated. Since March, museums including the Guggenheim and Met announced sweeping furloughs and layoffs, especially affecting museum front-facing staff and education workers.

Along with the loosened restrictions at museums and zoos, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced increased capacity at movie theaters (33%), up from the previous 25%. At the time of his announcement, the seven-day positivity for New York state was 2.85%, the lowest since November 13 of last year, according to Cuomo. Currently, 44% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.