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Sign of the Times: Museums Become Vaccine Clinics

Category: Alliance Blog
The inside of AMNH, with a large blue whale model hovering over everything
Photo credit: InSapphoWeTrust on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

After a year-plus of museums stepping far outside their comfort zones, becoming everything from food distributors to protest relief stations, the final frontier is upon us. Museums around the world have started to offer their spaces as vaccination sites, playing a part in the effort to finally mitigate the devastating effects of the disease. Here are a few of the institutions that have offered up their facilities to the cause.

American Museum of Natural History

The inside of AMNH, with a large blue whale model hovering over everything
Photo credit: InSapphoWeTrust on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

New York City gained an instant new hotspot when the American Museum of Natural History announced it would turn the underside of its famous blue whale model into a vaccine site, adorning the massive sea creature with a custom-made bandage fit to scale. All takers are also eligible for free admission to the museum’s galleries for them and up to three friends. At the unveiling of the site, The Art Newspaper reports, AMNH’s President Ellen Futter predicted the image of the clinic under the whale would become “a snapshot of New York and New Yorkers fighting back, caring for one another, and of a time when things started to turn for the better.”

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Placard spelling out the name of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on a brick wall
Photo credit: Paul Sableman on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, has hosted a weekly vaccine clinic on its premises since March, in partnership with the Hy-Vee supermarket chain. The museum’s President Bob Kendrick told The Garden City Telegram he sees the clinic as “a sign of progress and optimism and hope,” the same values at the root of the story the museum tells. He hopes the clinic helps chip away at vaccine hesitancy in the Black community: “You hope that doing it in this environment makes getting this vaccine less threatening. It’s not the same as going into a medical facility. And maybe someone’s saying, ‘OK, if the Negro League museum is providing this, maybe this ain’t that bad after all.’”

Castello di Rivoli

A curving wall with black squiggles against a white background in a desert setting
An installation by Claudia Comte, whose Castello di Rivoli exhibition became a makeshift vaccine clinic. Photo credit: usestangerines on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the New York Times reports, the contemporary art museum Castello di Rivoli in Turin, Italy, has repurposed an extended installation by artist Claudia Comte, featuring hypnotic black-and-white wall paintings and a lulling soundtrack by composer Egon Elliut, into a vaccination center run by local health authorities. The museum’s director, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, calls the exhibition a “perfect” backdrop for the unexpected activation, and several vaccine recipients the paper spoke to agree.

Delta Flight Museum

exterior of a building reading "Delta Air Lines"
Photo credit: airbus777 on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

In February, the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta signed on to be one of four mass vaccination sites in the state of Georgia. The museum, located at Delta airlines’ general offices near the Atlanta airport, offers both a drive-through lane and on-site clinic. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said he hoped the move would help “get our lives and our economy back on track.”

Science Museum, London

Musuem interior with a banner reading "Science Museum 100: celebrating a century of science"
Photo credit: Steph Gray on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

London’s Science Museum has been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic, working towards reopening later this month with a sweeping COVID-themed exhibition. In the meanwhile, it reopened a cleared special exhibitions gallery as a vaccine clinic in March, where thousands of residents have been able to get vaccinated per week. Director Ian Blatchford notes that, “Uniquely, our museum can both tell the story of how vaccination has saved millions of lives, and also play a part in ensuring vaccines protect the nation from COVID-19.”

Thackray Museum of Medicine

Exterior of an ornate historic building
Photo credit: Tom Parnell on Flickr. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Back in December 2020, the Thackray Museum of Medicine in the British city of Leeds became one of the earliest museums to host a vaccine clinic, offering the shot to some of the first and highest-priority members of the public. The resonance of hosting the clinic amongst galleries charting the history of medicine was not lost on Director Nat Edwards, who said, “Just to witness the very best of modern medicine in action alongside the whole history of humanity’s centuries of effort to understand and overcome disease is hard to describe.”

These are only a few notable examples of the many museums that have stepped up around the world. For more, see the original thread on AAM’s Twitter account which this post is based on. Let us know in the comments if you know of any others!

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