The Art Gallery of Ballarat has thrown open its back doors to welcome visitors once more after a three month COVID-19 closure.
Entrance to the gallery is now through doors in Alfred Deakin Place to provide more room for social distancing among visitors arriving to view the exhibitions on show.
Art Gallery of Ballarat director Louise Tegart said the experience at the gallery would now be a little different for visitors, with just 20 allowed inside for each hourly session, and tickets needing to be booked before arrival.
A group of regular visitors who were "desperate to come back in" were among the first to visit the gallery on Wednesday.
"It's a very different experience for people but it's probably a good experience because you can have a really close encounter with the art works without the crowds around," she said.
"We are a public building so we don't fulfill our mission and what we do without the public, so it's really, really exciting to reopen."
While Art Gallery of Ballarat staff might not have welcomed visitors for three months, they certainly haven't been idle.
"Staff have been working on a whole lot of projects," Ms Tegart said.
"We really ramped up our digital online presence, we've done work on future exhibition development, online educational resources for schools, done a whole lot of work on our collection database, and revised policy and procedures.
"But we also took the opportunity to do work on the building. The last time the gallery closed was about 15 years ago so we've done some painting, some other building facelift work and we've also carried out some really essential work on some of our plant and equipment - the building management system keeps temperature and humidity controlled."
A collection rehang has also been undertaken during the period of closure which means the gallery's permanent collection will remain closed until September while these are completed.
Ms Tegart said work on reopening the gallery began almost as soon as it closed.
"There are timed tickets to control the numbers in the spaces so we meet the recommended number, plus it allows us to gather people's names and contact details in case we have to do contact tracing," she said.
"We've put in a lost of processes and procedures in terms of visitor safety - hand sanitising, cleaning every hour, changing the entry point to Alfred Deakin Place so people aren't congregating out on the pavement ... we've done absolutely everything possible to ensure we make the gallery safe."
Ms Tegart said each night staff reviewed the bookings for the following day and if anyone was booked from one of the 10 Melbourne postcodes in lockdown from midnight Wednesday they would be asked not to come.
Ballarat mayor Cr Ben Taylor said the re-opening of the gallery was a much-anticipated event.
"I know many people have missed spending time in this wonderful facility and are ready to experience the truly fascinating exhibitions that the Gallery offers," he said.
IN OTHER NEWS
A new Anne Wallace exhibition Strange Ways, highlighting the 30-year career of the Melbourne based artist, has been installed during the closure.
Stagecraft, featuring the moody black and white collages and tapestries created by Ballarat-born international artist David Noonan over the past five years, had only been open three days when the art gallery closed and it remains on show.
Anyone wanting to visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat should go online to the gallery website to book a time to visit at artgalleryofballarat.com.au/book-tickets.
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