Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Te Papa deep clean following Sydney’s visit

Andre Chumko, Behind the scenes after Te Papa’s deep clean, Stuff, 28 June 2021

Up a flight of stairs and through a secret back entrance in the country’s national museum, Josh Barraud wheels a trolley full of conservator cleaning supplies past world-renowned surrealist art works. The situation itself, is slightly surreal.

The museum’s manager of exhibition services sprays industry-grade isopropyl spray onto glass and Perspex cases containing the precious pieces. He’s wearing a pair of blue latex gloves, and his team have been hard at work sanitising every individual object and surface inside the building, ahead of the museum’s reopening on Tuesday.

Josh Barraud, manager of exhibition services hard at work. Monique Ford/STUFF

Before he speaks to Stuff, a man winches himself up a giant pou​ on a crane-like contraption to featherdust its crevices. On the glassy floors below a “Slippery when wet” sign sits alone. “We don’t need to be too prescriptive,” Barraud says.

The museum’s usually sweeping, open floors are now cluttered with Covid-19 preventative tape, a monster-sized freestanding QR code for visitors to scan, and a sign-in desk with litres of hand sanitiser at the ready.

Te Papa has undergone a deep clean and is preparing to reopen. Monique Ford/STUFF

Last week Te Papa shut after the Ministry of Health revealed that the Covid-positive Sydney tourist visited it and its Surrealist Art exhibition on loan from Rotterdam. The six-day closure represents the second-longest in the museum’s history, after last year’s 68-day stint during lockdown.

A gigantic QR code sign sits just beyond its front doors. Monique Ford/STUFF

While six days may not seem like a lot of time, staff say it feels like it’s been weeks. They’ve been busy cleaning every element of the museum – and even taken the opportunity to get some construction work done.

Visitors will notice some differences when the doors open on Tuesday at 10am. First, interactive and high-touch areas have been cordoned off, including the rotating water ball in the main foyer (even though this water is chlorinated) and the Surrealist Art interactive elements, the museum’s head of visitor services Shaun Pallett said.

Barraud cleans some surrealist art work. Monique Ford/STUFF

“Every object in the museum’s got its own protocol for how you clean it, who’s allowed to clean it,” said Kate Camp, the museum’s head of communications. “When you clean a museum … you don’t just get out the spray and wipe.”

Covid-safe barriers around the surrealist art merchandise. Monique Ford/STUFF

With the surrealist art works, that means no touching or cleaning at all, however the works with no protective layers have been roped off.

While the museum suffered a financial loss due to its closure, it was unknown exactly how much due to some people refunding their Surrealist Art tickets and others rebooking, Camp said. The exhibition, due to run to October, is heading to Seoul after New Zealand so cannot be extended.

“Certainly, everyone knows it’s here now,” Camp said.

A sign language video explains the new regulations for the museum under level 2. Monique Ford/STUFF

See also: Te Papa reopens, but limiting numbers

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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