Reopening TN Arts & Culture, Part 2

Jack Martin
Master artist Jack Martin stitches a rainbow broom at his shop in Selmer, TN. Photo by Bradley Hanson

From Suzanne Lynch, Director of Marketing & Development –

On Friday, May 8, small group, non-contact recreation businesses like bowling alleys, arcades, dance classes, water sports, mini-golf, and more were able to reopen. The Tennessee Pledge guidelines recommend capacity limits, spacing requirements, and frequent sanitization, among others. Larger venues and activities where social distancing is not feasible remain closed.

“As our testing capacity and contact tracing ability continues to improve, it’s time to get Tennesseans back to work safely and successfully,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “These guidelines were created in partnership with business leaders and health experts to preserve the progress we’ve made and protect the lives and livelihoods of Tennesseans.”

The guidance applies to 89 of the state’s 95 counties. Shelby, Madison, Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, and Sullivan created individual plans in consultation with the State and local health departments to address the unique needs of those individual communities.

On May 11, after one week of the first phase of business reopenings in Memphis and Shelby County, leaders said Monday they were cautiously optimistic about the future. At least 14 days must separate the start of phase one at the start of phase two, according to the task force’s Back to Business framework.

Museums and other entertainment venues are included in Phase 3 of Mayor Cooper’s “Roadmap for Reopening Nashville,” which was announced on April 23 and revised on April 30. Phase 3 allowed venues to reopen at half capacity with social distancing and other restrictions after 28 days of positive improvement/stability of metrics. Nashville is currently operating in Phase 1.

Knoxville and Knox County safer at home order came to an end on May 1. The city and county released a separate list of guidelines that are different from Governor Bill Lee’s statewide plan. Dr. Martha Buchanan of the Knox County Health Department said there will be three phases to the reopening. Each phase will last at least 28 days. Phase one began on May 1, but social distancing guidelines should continue to be followed.

Hamilton County officially reopened on May 1st, following Governor Lee’s plan to reopen 89 of the state’s 95 counties. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he’s following Governor Lee’s plans moving forward. According to the county’s website, all Hamilton County restaurants were allowed at 50% capacity beginning Monday, April 27th. All retail businesses were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity beginning Wednesday, April 29th.

As of May 12, Tennessee has 16,111 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 265 deaths.

Reflecting on the counties’ directions, Tennessee nonprofit arts and cultural organizations have mixed plans to reopening. 

  • On Saturday, May 9, the Museum of Appalachia, Norris reopened its grounds to visitors from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. In addition to curbside service, it will open the restaurant for in-house dining from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. The Museum will continue to abide by the regulations and guidelines set by local and state governments and will be adding measures to allow for appropriate social distancing for the safety of both guests and staff.
  • The Frist Museum of Art, Nashville is reviewing the recommendations of the mayor and the medical community to determine a safe timetable. They currently anticipate reopening in June if the best-case scenario bears out, with proper measures implemented for the health and safety of all visitors, volunteers, and staff.
  • Memphis’ Playhouse on the Square has canceled its last three performances, which were set to close the 2019-2020 season. Circuit Playhouse, Inc. has decided to open the 2020-2021 season with Little Shop of Horrors, which will run August 7-30. The Department of Theatre Education will no longer host Summer Youth Conservatory on the Playhouse campus. Plans for an alternate version of the camp are currently being discussed.
  • Southern Word, Nashville have ramped up their online offerings to provide opportunities to engage with poets and mentors. Free weekly workshops focus on fiction writing, beats and demos, live-mix sessions, DJing, music production and are available every week.
  • The Arts & Culture Alliance, Knoxville is presenting a special Summer Members Show featuring new works by local artists in the Greater Knoxville area. Membership is open to all, and information may be found at Most of the works in the 2020 Members Show are for sale and may be purchased through the close of the exhibition. A reception is tentatively scheduled for First Friday, July 3, from 5:00-9:00 p.m. The public is invited to attend 100 people at a time and asks to follow social distancing guidelines and other recommendations given by the Knox County Health Department, the City of Knoxville, and Knox County.
  • Due to the cancelation of the Smithsonian exhibit, Crossroads: Change in Rural America, Arts in McNairy posted a video about the project featuring Governor’s Arts Award recipient Jack Martin, hosted by Dr. Shawn Pitts and Joanna Pitts.
  • Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum’s doors may be closed temporarily, but you can enjoy in-gallery experiences, stay engaged with at-home art activities, or explore the current exhibition “Southbound: Photographs of and about the New South” from home. Or, explore Hunter’s own permanent collection online at any time of day at Virtual Hunter on the museum’s website.
  • Nationally, Americans for the Arts is transforming the 2020 Annual Convention and the Public Art & Civic Design Conference into a virtual convening.
    Breakout sessions include:

    • Access to Field Experts in Public Art, Equity, Arts Education, Arts Management, and Advocacy.
    • Targeted sessions on responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
    • Inspiring Keynotes with New York Times columnist David Brooks; artistic director at Woolly Mammoth Maria Manuela Goyanes; sound artist Yoko Sen; musician and disability advocate Molly Joyce; and visual artist, curator, and entrepreneur Tony Weaver.
    • Networking, connection, and community with the arts field.
    • All while saving on travel and accommodations.

Important information about COVID-19 Unemployment for businesses and employees, including the self-employed, can be found at

A very helpful online resource for up-to-date statistics is the Tennessee Dept. of Health Covid-19 page, which is updated daily:

Related media articles:

First to Close, Last to Open, the Future of Performing Arts in Nashville During the Age of Coronavirus, WPLN

What Could Reopening Arts and Culture Venues Look Like, Ideastream

Upstate Will Be First to Test New York’s Arts Appetite, New York Times

Connecticut Offers Arts Organizations a Road Map for Reopening, WNPR

Three Things Arts & Cultural Organizations Can Do to Make Visitors Feel Comfortable After They Reopen, sgEngage

Art World Coronavirus Tracker (includes a long list of artist relief resources), Art Forum

How Creative Thinking Helped Seatle Flatten the Curve, National Geographic