Beginning Tuesday, the Smithsonian Institution will no longer require visitors to reserve timed-entry passes at any of its D.C.-area museums, with the exception of the National Museum of African American History and Culture — which used a ticket system before COVID-19 — and the National Zoo.
At the same time, the Smithsonian facilities that have already reopened in the organization’s phased reopening plan also will begin admitting visitors at full capacity. Those located on the National Mall will return to pre-pandemic hours (typically 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) on the days of the week they are open. Vaccinated guests and those under the age of 2 are not required to wear masks; all others must still wear face coverings.
The two most recent museums to reopen — the National Museum of African Art and the Freer Gallery of Art — will have no timed-entry passes or capacity restrictions as of opening day, July 16. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery remains closed for renovation.
Overall, the Smithsonian has had a more cautious approach to reopening its museums than some other cultural institutions in the area. By eliminating most timed-entry passes and pandemic capacity restrictions, it is taking a significant step toward normalcy and ending a policy that sometimes required museumgoers to plan visits weeks in advance, because tickets often sold out quickly.
The decision is a change from previously announced plans: In June, Smithsonian officials said that museums would require timed-entry passes through the summer, and that each facility would reopen at 25 percent capacity — or less.
Alex Fairchild, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian, said the decision to open at full capacity is in line with local guidelines — the District fully reopened on June 11 — and in response to local and national caseloads remaining low. Passes were a tool used to keep track of visitor numbers. “Since we no longer need passes, we think returning to walk-up visitation (will) provide the best visitor experience,” Fairchild wrote in an email.
Many Smithsonian museums have remained shuttered since March 14, 2020 — including the National Museum of African Art and the National Museum of Asian Art. The institution began a multistage reopening in 2020, but had to quickly close all museums in November during another spike in COVID-19 cases. It is now in the middle of another phased rollout that began in May and will be completed at the end of August with the reopening of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on Aug. 20 and the National Postal Museum on Aug. 27. The Arts and Industries Building, which has been closed for renovation since before the pandemic, will reopen for the first time for its “Futures” exhibition in November.
The change in operations at the Smithsonian comes just after the National Gallery of Art eliminated its own timed-entry ticketing requirement and completed its reopening, with the addition of access to the East Building. The Phillips Collection, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Spy Museum and Planet Word are all still requiring timed-entry passes.
Of the Smithsonian facilities, only the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Zoo and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York will continue requiring timed-entry passes. The zoo decided to keep the passes indefinitely to manage traffic flow unrelated to the pandemic. And the Cooper Hewitt — the only Smithsonian facility that charges an entry fee — will give out free passes through October.