|Bennington Museum Opens its Doors|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
06:23PM / Friday, July 03, 2020
|The Bennington Museum opened its doors on Friday for the first time since March.|
BENNINGTON, Vt. — With less than three hours to go before opening his institution to the public, Bennington Museum Executive Director Joshua Torrance was on Cloud 9.
Or, at least, close.
"I'm actually sitting on top of a tall ladder adjusting lights as I talk to you," Torrance said on Friday morning.
The Main Street museum, which shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was making final preparations for its 1 p.m. opening.
Torrance said he and his staff are excited to be able to offer patrons a little happiness and a bit of normalcy during a trying time.
Not everything will be back to normal on Day 1, of course.
Visitors will have their temperature checked before entry, and the museum is requiring patrons to use face coverings and maintain social distancing in the galleries. By state guidelines, the facility can admit up to 50 percent of its capacity, but the Bennington Museum is holding itself to a more conservative 25 percent capacity -- or 400 visitors at a time based on its square footage.
"Every gallery, every room has a capacity posted right outside each one," Torrance said. "And of course, there are social distance signs up and hand sanitizers spread throughout.
"Fortunately, our sight lines are pretty good. People will be able to self regulate themselves as they go through the galleries. We're going to carefully keep our eye on that and monitor that."
Torrance said it helps that the town of Bennington is requiring face coverings when 6-foot social distances are not possible, so local patrons are used to the protocols that will be in place at the museum.
Unlike the major Berkshire County museums that announced their reopening schedules on Thursday
, the Bennington Museum will not require timed ticketing. But Torrance said he has been in communication with his colleagues in the Berkshires and Vermont throughout the closure period to talk about best practices for a safe reopening.
Visitors at the Bennington Museum will be able to enjoy the 10-acre museum property, which this summer hosts the outdoor sculptures of 46 artists participating in the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, also known as NBOSS.
Inside the museum, the institution offers a shows featuring photos by Southern Vermont artist Kevin Bubriski and paintings by Brattleboro's Scot Borofsky.
The Bubriski exhibit, "Our Voices, Our Streets," focuses on street protests in the southwestern Vermont town from 2001 to 2004. It was planned to open on March 28 but has particular resonance in a summer when street protests nationwide are very much in the news.
New starting Friday is a fresh look at old items from the museum's 45,000-piece collection.
The museum's "People's Choice Exhibit" is the result of online voting conducted during the pandemic. Torrance said a couple of hundred people contributed their input on which objects should make the cut for an exhibit planned to run through Nov. 3.
"It was really fun to have such great community engagement," he said. "Within the gallery, we'll each week award people's favorites awards. We're playing off the idea of the old country fairs that, sadly, aren't happening, and we'll award a blue ribbon each week. At the end of the exhibit, we'll do a grand champion 'best of the best' kind of thing."
Torrance said that the "People's Choice" exhibit, though born of necessity, has benefited the museum and, particularly, himself, to learn a little about the Bennington Museum's patrons and their tastes.
"One of the things that's important as we move forward is to more deeply connect to our community, and part of that means understanding our guests' needs and interests and desires," said Torrance, who stepped into his role in January of this year. "Not only has this exhibit helped that, but we also are doing a visitor survey this summer. That was planned before the pandemic."
Torrance said part of the reason an exhibit drawn from the collection makes sense is that, like most museums, Bennington Museum would have a hard time getting loans during the pandemic. And staging a big exhibit in these uncertain economic times would not make much sense, either.
The museum did benefit from the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program loans, he said, but still had to trim its staff of 15 down to eight during the closure. He is keeping staffing at that level for the foreseeable future, which has meant cross-training employees to handle all museum functions, including the more frequent cleaning of public spaces that the novel coronavirus demands.
One thing that has not changed for the institution has been the generosity of its supporters, Torrance said.
In June, the Bennington Museum's donors successfully matched a $26,000 matching grant and a $12,000 pledge from the museum's board of directors. In total, the institution raised a little more than $80,000 last month, Torrance said.
"We are fortunate in that our membership rates remain constant and steady, and for that, we are extremely grateful to the community and our supporters," he said.
While balancing from his perch in the rafters, Torrance said that spirits could not be higher.
"I'm feeling pretty good," the first-year executive director said. "It feels good to be reopening and hopefully bringing joy and excitement to the community. Hopefully, it's a sign of hope for better things to come. We feel good and excited.
"I started here in January and two short months later, we had to close down. I feel like this is a rebirth and reopening."