As wildfires rage throughout Northern and Southern California, several museums across the state have been forced to close. A conflagration known as the Getty Fire, which started early Tuesday morning along the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, has caused the Getty Center and the Getty Villa to remain closed through the week.
In a statement to ARTnews, a museum representative said that, while the Getty Center is secure, “our property is still serving as a hub for emergency responders and there are forecasts for high winds and another red flag warning tonight through Thursday morning. After careful consideration, we have made a decision to close both the Getty Center and Getty Villa through Friday. We do so out of an abundance of caution related to the weather conditions, to allow space for continued movement of fire equipment, and because road closures would make it difficult for visitors and staff to come to either facility.”
The Getty shuttered to “accommodate the fire-fighting effort and make space for emergency responders on Getty roads,” according to a statement. The museum has said on Twitter that the artworks in its collection are safe and “protected by state-of-the-art technology.”
Over 1,000 firefighters were on the scene at the Getty Fire on Monday, and the Getty, which is normally closed on Mondays, was also closed to employees yesterday. On Tuesday, the Getty Fire had burned 656 acres.
Cultural institutions in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, also closed to the public on Tuesday due to the Kincade Fire, spanning over 75,000 acres and threatening some 90,000 structures. The Charles M. Schulz Museum is closed, but plans to reopen on Wednesday, October 30. The Museum of Sonoma County also closed Tuesday and will remain closed Wednesday; pending weather conditions, the museum may reopen on Thursday.
Jeff Nathanson, the executive director and curator at the Museum of Sonoma County, told ARTnews that the majority of the museum’s staff have been evacuated from their homes. He said that because the museum is located in downtown Santa Rosa, its structure and collection are not imminently threatened by the fire. Air quality within the museums walls is, however, a concern.
“The air quality inside our building is not as bad as outside, but it’s not good or safe,” Nathanson said, adding that a contractor is setting up air purifiers throughout the museum today. “By this evening we expect [the air in the museum] to be completely clean.”
Artworks in the collection will be checked following air purification procedures.
“We’re going to have to go through a complete inspection of our exhibition galleries and our collection,” Nathanson said of works that may require cleaning.
The Museum of Sonoma County was also impacted by fires in Northern California in 2017, when, according to Nathanson, the museum staff more seriously considered evacuating objects in its collection. During those fires two years ago, the institution opened its doors as a sanctuary space for community members affected by the disaster. If the museum reopens on Thursday, it will serve this purpose once again.
Since 2017, the museum has organized a symposium on fire safety and evacuations attended by multiple institutions in the region. As a result, “we feel more prepared than we were two years ago,” Nathanson said.
“Cultural institutions, especially museums, have to be part of a community recovering— being resilient and processing what impact these disasters have,” he said.
This post will be updated.