|Cultural Institutions Open Grounds, Look to Appeal to Area Residents|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
03:59AM / Monday, June 01, 2020
|The architecture of Pritzker Prize-winner Tadao Ando is part of the appeal of the campus at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.|
The Norman Rockwell Museum is one of seven county cultural institutions that will be joining the Clark Art Institute in opening their grounds to the public.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The museum doors remain closed, but the great outdoors offer opportunities for area residents and visitors alike to connect with culture.
"We really believe people are going to have a pent-up desire to be outdoors after being in the home for eight, nine, 10 weeks," Norman Rockwell Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffat said on Friday morning. "Now, with the beautiful season upon us that can be so short-lived here in the Berkshires, we know we're all eager to have some sunshine and fresh air."
To that end, Moffat's Stockbridge venue joined six other cultural institutions in Pittsfield and South County on Friday morning to announce they either are or soon will be opening their grounds to the public.
The Rockwell Museum, Berkshire Botanical Garden, Chesterwood, Hancock Shaker Village, Naumkeag Public Garden and Historic Home, The Mount and Tanglewood will follow in the path of Williamstown's Clark Art Institute, which offers 140 acres of lawns, meadows and walking trails that have been open to the public since the museum's closure in March.
Moffat later Friday morning participated in a virtual town hall hosted by 1Berkshire to discuss what summer in the Berkshires will look like. Although much of the conversation was devoted to how institutions will approach future phases of the commonwealth's phased reopening, Moffat took the opportunity to expound on what already is available.
"We have more than 1,300 acres of trails and sculpture parks and even baby animals at Hancock Shaker Village, which will all be outside and very safely accessible with easy social distancing," Moffat said, referring to the seven entities involved in Friday's announcement. "I think this is an exciting opportunity for our community, especially when we've been so sad that our performing arts sister institutions have had to forfeit an entire season for the safety of their artists and the visiting public.
"This is a real loss in our community both from a cultural and healing perspective as well as the economic impact of that. We're so pleased that we have sites with grounds, including in Northern Berkshire the Clark and Mass MoCA, places with large outdoor spaces as well as all the sanctuaries, Mass Audubon, Pleasant Valley Canoe Meadows, mountains and state parks and forests.
"The Berkshires really have a very special amenity where people can come and enjoy safely."
And where people can stay safely and enjoy.
Much of the discussion on Friday morning dealt with how institutions are marketing the region to people who live here and when it will make sense to start reaching beyond the borders to in a more traditional appeal to travelers — especially at a time when hotels are available only to people traveling on essential business.
"Marketing right now is so tricky," said Brian Cruey, the director of Southern Berkshires operations for the Trustees of Reservations, whose properties include Naumkeag. "You want to let people know that you're open, but you don't want to be seen like you're pushing it too hard and that you're trying to get too many people to come or to get them to come from too far away.
"We're all still trying in one way or another to drive revenue. We're all so desperate for that right now. It's hard to do that and still hold back the reins on the marketing. … What we've been really marketing right now is information — those safety things people can help us do when they come to the property. And really targeting our advertising, the small advertising we are doing, very locally. We're really keeping it to within 15 miles of Stockbridge, per se, or Bart's Cobble in Sheffield, so we're really getting those people who are in the area, who are not going to have to travel very far, who maybe haven't discovered these places before."
As much as the region's cultural institutions are hurting financially and fearing the shortening of an already compact summer season, they cannot lose sight of the fact that their neighbors throughout the county may be suffering more acutely from the economic effects of the pandemic, Moffat said.
"It's important for us to be really mindful how to be present for all of our residents and neighbors here in the Berkshires," she said. "There are some questions about, ‘Will grounds be free?' I wanted to suggest everybody check the individual organization's website because each organization has different criteria. Time ticketing is required by the governor.
"But we understand, and we will be looking at our free structure to develop ‘pay what you can' for those who can. There are going to be accommodations to make sure that healing can begin for everyone in the Berkshires, and I know we're all so dependent on a visitor economy for the economics of our community. But getting all of our residents back on their feet and nurturing them will also help heal and get our community standing back on its feet."
And while cultural institutions cannot welcome visitors inside at the moment, they are staying in touch with their audiences through programs like the Clark's "Clark Connects" videos, Moffat's "Virtual Norman Rockwell Museum" program or the Williams College Museum of Art's "egallery," each available on their respective websites.
"We are in a wonderful position to help heal the trauma in our community and our nation that we have been going through with this pandemic," Moffat said. "At the museum, there's been such an embrace of our digital programming. We have a hundred people signed up for a sketch class this evening from all over the country. And we've been able to bring experiences into people's homes — families who are schooling their children, teachers who are looking for lesson plans. There are wonderful ways we've been able to continue to connect with people."
And there is plenty for the Berkshires to offer offline — even now.
"Our outdoors is not just found on a mountaintop or on a lake," 1Berkshire Vice President of Tourism and Marketing Lindsey Schmid said. "But on a hillside next to cows and an amazing outdoor sculpture at the Clark or a bird walk on the grounds of Edith Wharton's home. It's this juxtaposition of outdoors with culture that has always made us unique."