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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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MAC reopens, putting artifacts from Pompeii back on display – and present-day pain in perspective

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 28, 2020

A family visits a town center replica at the Pompeii: the immortal city exhibit Friday at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A family visits a town center replica at the Pompeii: the immortal city exhibit Friday at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

First they were buried under volcanic debris for nearly two millennia.

Then they were out of sight again for some six months, in Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

But as of Tuesday, the more than 100 Roman artifacts that comprise the exhibition “Pompeii: The Immortal City” were brought back into public view.

The exhibition opened in Spokane in February and promised to drop visitors into the ruins of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, lost for more than 1,500 years under the hardened ash of a catastrophic volcanic eruption in 79 AD. But “Pompeii” was shuttered soon after, on , as a result of pandemic-related restrictions on museums.

The museum welcomed visitors again this week, days after Gov. Jay Inslee issued a new order allowing museums, bowling alleys and agritourism, such as hay rides, to open again in counties, including Spokane, in at least Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan.

Under new Phase 2 guidelines, the MAC and other museums across the state will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity. Under Phase 3, the limit is 50% capacity.

To Carol Summers, director of marketing and communications for the MAC, an exhibit like “Pompeii” can give visitors some perspective during present-day hardships.

“It tells us that people in every time have crises and situations that they ultimately overcome,” Summers said. “Who would’ve thought, thousands of years later, we’d be able to recover things from people who lived 2,000 years ago? We see what their lives were like and how similar so many aspects of their lives were.”

Of the scores of artifacts, a group of medical instruments stuck out to Summers most. She said they didn’t appear to be very different from many of our medical instruments today.

Through a combination of luck and effort , MAC administrators were able to extend the Pompeii exhibit to Sept. 13. In the meantime, the museum has lost revenue from visitors and fundraisers. A Pompeii gala at the Historic Davenport Hotel would have brought in a couple hundred thousand dollars, Summers said.

The closures forced museum staff to get creative with virtual tours and events, which they plan to continue when the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

Some changes in operation have uncertain end dates. The Campbell House, a historic Victorian home furnished with period decor, will remain closed, possibly until Spokane moves to Phase 3 due to its tight spaces and volunteer staffing.

Café MAC, which sits inside the main museum building, might open before Phase 3, Summers said.

“Don’t regret that you didn’t make it down to the museum by Sept. 13,” Summers said. “Unless you go to Italy yourself, it might be your only chance to see artifacts from before the first century.”

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m Tuesday through Sunday, though Tuesdays from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are reserved for senior and high-risk visitors only. Masks are required to enter.

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