SALT LAKE CITY — It was Friday the 13th when the Utah Museum of Fine Arts shut down.

That was back in March. And now, more than five months later, UMFA is set to reopen. Starting Wednesday, Aug. 26, visitors can visit UMFA during its new operating hours (noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays).

Things will look a little different at UMFA this time around — visitors and staff are required to wear face coverings and keep 6 feet apart, visitor capacity is capped at 100 people, and groups larger than 10 won’t be admitted.

But, as always, there’s a lot of great art to experience. And art helps us remember how the scope of human history extends far beyond our current problems.

“Human beings have been through very hard times before,” UMFA Director Gretchen Dietrich told the Deseret News during a recent phone interview. “And when you walk around the galleries, and you engage with art that is hundreds of years old in some cases, you’re just reminded that this is a hard, really challenging moment, but it will get better hopefully for most of us, and we will come through this. And I think it sort of connects us to the past, and connects to one another, in a way that is really quite comforting.”

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Art itself documents human struggle in its many forms — war, disease, pain — and is often born from those very struggles.

“Suffering and loss is truly a part of what it means to be a human being,” Dietrich said. “And I derive comfort knowing that other people have gone through hard times.”

UMFA was fortunate that some of its current exhibits, including the popular “Beyond the Divide: Merchant, Artist, Samurai in Edo Japan,” was comprised of art from its existing collection. The museum can display that art as long as it wants, quarantine or not. 

Another temporary exhibit on loan, “Black Refractions: Highlights from the Studio Museum in Harlem,” was scheduled to open at UMFA this week, but its owners allowed UMFA to push that premiere date back to Jan. 21.

“In this crazy COVID moment, art museum people are just being really collaborative and really wonderful,” Dietrich said. “You and I don’t know what January is going to look like. I think hopefully the world will be a little closer to normal by then, but we don’t know for sure. But I can tell you that the art is here, so that show is going to open, even if we can only bring in three people at a time to see it.”

Most of UMFA’s employees are still working remotely, while a few of its “front of house” employees are at the museum to help its new protocols run smoothly. Dietrich said UMFA is trying to remain focused on the future during these strange times. The museum’s patrons can breathe easy — both literally and figuratively.

“It’s a pretty big space with a really good HVAC system,” Dietrich said.

Gallery views of an exhibition of Edo period Japanese art from April 2020.
Utah Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition “Beyond the Divide: Merchant, Artist, Samurai in Edo Japan,” which is currently on display. | Utah Museum of Fine Arts