Santa Barbara Maritime Museum opens a year later
The laughs and “whoas” of families filled the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum’s two-story exhibition area once again — 370 days after its last visitors strolled through.
The Maritime Museum, located at 113 Harbor Way, Suite 190, in Santa Barbara, opened Thursday to its members and will set sail to the general public Saturday, armed with four new exhibits.
The museum’s COVID-19 precautions include shutting down high-touch elements, such as the periscope and frequent disinfecting.
“It’s time for us to safely get back out and do things, so it’s nice to have our doors opening,” Greg Gorga, the museum’s executive director, told the News-Press.
Through the end of the month, Thursdays and Fridays are for members only, and Saturdays and Sundays are open to guests. He hopes members feel safe with days of their own.
“A lot of people let their membership lapse during the closure because they didn’t have a museum to come into, but now they’re starting to re-up their membership,” he said.
Community members and the museum’s board of directors contributed financially to keep the museum from perishing during the pandemic.
“My staff here have been absolutely fantastic during this whole year,” Mr. Gorga said. “We really pivoted right away.”
The museum released lessons and educational tools online.
One project, which encouraged students to explore oceanic features in their own backyards, was nominated by the American Alliance of Museums as one of the most innovative education programs of the year.
“We’ve always wanted to have more of an online presence, and COVID just forced our hand to do that. And it’s been a great experience,” Mr. Gorga said.
He has hosted webinars with guests from around the world, and the museum has been able to reach people internationally.
He plans to keep producing online programming.
In July, the Maritime Museum started its reopening process. Mr. Gorga gathered staff members and filed a reopening plan with county health officials.
“We were ready to go. We wanted to wait a couple of weeks to get everybody trained and get everything in a good place,” he said. “And the week before, we got shut down again.”
The preparations last summer allowed the museum to expeditiously open Thursday.
“We’ve been raring to go for a while,” he said.
When the county reached the red tier in the fall, Mr. Gorga waited to reopen. A few staff members had left, and he wanted to wait until December.
The museum’s largest exhibit arrived in December. It’s titled “Arthur Beaumont: Art of the Sea” and features 53 paintings from Mr. Beaumont, who was contracted by the Navy to paint its missions.
These large-format paintings, displayed in gilded frames, fill the museum’s theater and much of the second floor’s walls.
The Arthur Beaumont exhibit is on display until the end of May, when it will then be shipped off to the East Coast.
Another new display, called “Love Letters to the Sea,” encourages kids to advocate for cleaner waters and conservation. The museum provides the addresses of lawmakers, so families can send the letters and make an impression.
The family-friendly museum has new neighbors since it was last open: CHOMP on the Rocks and Salty at the Beach. The restaurants opened during the pandemic, and Mr. Gorga sees a good partnership with them.
The menu at CHOMP on the Rocks has burgers, fries and shakes with a mid-century flair. It’s the kind of restaurant kids beg their parents to eat at.
“Because (CHOMP) is so family orientated, I figured it’d be great for us because we are a family museum,” Mr. Gorga said.
At the top of the building sits the Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center, a partnership of the museum, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Channel Islands National Park and the city of Santa Barbara.
The visitors center is still open, though the seating on the patio is closed. Mr. Gorga describes the patio’s sightline as “the best view in Santa Barbara.”
It overlooks downtown, the mountains and an expanse of the ocean so wide visitors can see the curve of the world.
As Mr. Gorga looks out at the ocean, it’s obvious he loves the sea. And perhaps more importantly, he is passionate about telling people about the sea.
“At 10 o’clock today, we had a young family with two kids, and I’m sitting in my office and I can hear the children’s voices. And it’s just so nice to hear young children in the Maritime Museum again,” he said.
Through the end of March, the museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays for members and Saturdays and Sundays for everyone.
To learn more about the museum’s reopening, go to sbmm.org/welcome-back.