The Alaska State Library Museum and Archives, was open on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 and according to staff, seeing a rise in the amount of visitors. Numbers aren’t where they were before the pandemic, but local curators are optimistic about this summer. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

The Alaska State Library Museum and Archives, was open on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 and according to staff, seeing a rise in the amount of visitors. Numbers aren’t where they were before the pandemic, but local curators are optimistic about this summer. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Juneau’s museums are optimistic for summer

Curators say there’s a steady increase in museum visitors

They’re not what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, but visitor numbers at Juneau’s museums are strong enough to have local curators optimistic about the coming season.

“We’re still thrilled with the amount of visitors coming in,” said Beth Weigel, director of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. “More than we expected.”

The museum has gotten a fair share of visitors, Weigel said, and some of its specialty walking tours are fully booked for July and August. Still, numbers are far below what they were in 2019 at the same time. In May and June of this year, Weigel said the city museum has had 550 paying visitors, including all kinds of ticket sales; children, adults, seniors and other kinds. But during the same months in 2019, the last year with a full cruise ship season, the museum received roughly 1,400 in adult ticket sales alone, she said.

Additionally, the museum is currently running at reduced hours — it’s only open Wednesday through Sunday — but Weigel said the museum has received enough visitors trying to visit the museum on off days that operations are being expanded to include Tuesdays starting July 6.

The museum offers a number of walking tours that have proved popular so far. This season there have been 15 walking tours with a total of 81 people, according to Weigel, with the true-crime “Capital City Killers” tour being the most popular. With the Alaska State Capitol open to the public again, 39 people have gone on the museum’s Capitol complex walking tour, she said.

[Visitor numbers rebound, but hotel vacancies remain high]

“Our walking tours are getting a lot attention this year,” Weigel said. “People are coming here and looking for unique, different kinds of experiences.”

Tours are led by local volunteer “history buffs,” Weigel said, who can offer a different and nuanced kind of experience.

When the pandemic closed museum doors many of them went digital, offering various for visitors to experience the museum remotely. Visitors to the city museum were able to pilot wheeled robots with tablets fixed to them allowing the user to explore the museum from home.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute created a virtual component for its museum at the Walter Soboloff Building, according to culture director Chuck Smythe, who said the institute intends to continue offering digital versions of all its exhibits going forward.

The SHI museum remains limited to 10 people at a time, Smythe said, and visitors are still required to wear masks while visiting. Smythe said the institute wasn’t ready to fully open, and visitors are still being asked to make reservations through the Sealaska Heritage Institute store. Smythe said the digital gallery experience received positive feedback and older exhibits would still be available after the gallery itself changed.

“We get really good coverage,” Smythe said in a phone interview. “This way it’s very accessible, open to the whole world.”

The gallery has only been open since June 1, according to Smythe, who said 189 people had visited the gallery since then. The gallery’s next exhibit, “Alaska Native Women Artists,” would hopefully be ready for First Friday in December, Smythe said.

The Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum has seen an increase in visitors too, according to Lisa Golisek-Nankervis, division operations manager for the museum.

“I think we had 600 people last week as opposed to six at this time last year,” Golisek-Nankervis said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Golisek-Nakervis said the museum was seeing a lot of visitors recently, possibly, she said, because other attractions in Juneau remain closed.

In May and June of this year, the museum has seen 3,880 visitors, according to Sara Lee Chubb, administrative assistant for the Alaska State Library and Museum. That’s up from last year when only 50 people visited the museum all in June, Chubb said, as the museum was still closed in May due to the pandemic.

But in those same months in 2019 the Alaska State Library and Museum saw a combined 17,691 visitors, with more than 10,000 visitors in June of that year, according to Chubb.

“I don’t think we would have met the same number even with the same hours,” Weigel said, referring to the number of visitors the city museum gets. “But it’s still far outpacing what it was last year.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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