Island Museums Are Preparing to Reopen

by C. Oscar Olson

Coming to terms with and adjusting to the reality of now has not been easy for anybody. Life is slowly returning to normal, though slower still here on Nantucket than usual, and with good reason. With weather warming and the population growing, many are wondering what to do, where to go, and how to do it safely.

The island’s rich history, unique ecosystems, and numerous notable people from the past are brought together by curators in a surprising number of marvelous museums for such a small place. They are a draw for many to cross the Sound every year, and we hope that soon this summer will be no exception. The minds behind these essential island institutions have been working tirelessly to put plans in place that work for everybody so they can finally open their doors and welcome the public back inside. We’re happy to say that for some of them the wait may be close to over.

Museums across the state have been waiting patiently for Phase 3 of Governor Baker’s plan to begin (at press time that date is July 6). With proper cleaning and safety measures in place, they will once again be able to open and operate. Locations like the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum, Nantucket Historical Association’s prized Whaling Museum, and the Maria Mitchell Association’s museums and science centers are hopefully just weeks away from finally unlocking the doors and welcoming visitors.

Jascin Finger, Deputy Director at the MMA, remains optimistic. “The MMA is hard at work preparing for a limited reopening. We do not have all the information yet about the state’s expectations, as that comes at the beginning of July should it roll out as hoped for, but we have been preparing ourselves with supplies, new thoughts on how we might open some of our sites in a limited capacity, and other possible offerings.” Since the beginning of this pandemic, flexibility has been a crucial aspect of moving forward.

Informed by their experience in city schools, hospitals, and hotels, a team of Boston-based experts in pathogenic remediation are on board to help the Nantucket Historical Association with regular and thorough cleaning of the entire building. Sanitization stations have been installed throughout the Whaling Museum to help with the process in addition to improved air filtration. The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum is also ready for visitors with sanitization stations and social distance spacing in place.

Through the implementation of extended hours, scheduled tours, and strenuous sanitization, the NHA is confident museumgoers will enjoy touch-free tours like never before. In addition, hours at the Whaling Museum will be extended, including 8 am openings reserved for seniors. The museum is even continuing their winterseason free admission.

Before we all locked ourselves inside, the NHA was hard at work on another project. Part of the museum has been transformed in to a Discovery Center for children to enjoy, featuring crafts and games as well several new exhibitions throughout the building. The Lightship Basket Museum is ready with an interesting new juxtaposition: this exhibit will compare 200-year-old baskets made on lightships with those made during our recent quarantine. And if you think we’ve been alone during these difficult times, Astronaut Dan Bursh might have some words for you. Baskets he made during his solitary time on the International Space Station will also be on exhibit.

Another idea being embraced locally is going virtual by bringing the experiences online. Some locations had tours in place on their websites long before the pandemic, while others are meeting those new needs today. Since the beginning of June, the MMA has been offering their Science Speaker Series online. It happens Wednesday nights at 7pm and people can register online,” explains MMA’s Jascin Finger, “it is on Zoom and is free to the public.”

When gathering indoors isn’t yet fully embraced, we’re grateful for all of the opportunities out-of-doors on Nantucket. “We hope to have some walks as we typically offer in the summer,” says Finger, “perhaps some marine walks, bird walks, and perhaps later things like ‘Meet the Animals,’ constellation tours, and other potential options.”

There are countless outdoor properties steeped in history that are still free to visit as well. “Throughout this crisis, we remind visitors that they are encouraged to enjoy the peace and tranquility found at many of the historic properties, such as the beautiful gardens of Hadwen House and Greater Light, or the open spaces by the Old Mill and Oldest House,” says the NHA’s Ashley Santos. “Public outdoor programs, many at the historic sites, will ramp up once permitting allows. These will include creative uses of the normally fallow grounds, with performances and presentations.”

Most the museums’ annual donation drives have either been cancelled or postponed, while other have gone virtual as well. The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum is moving forward with their annual Baskets and Bubbly Champagne luncheon, “Sea Nantucket Baskets and Bubbly 2020,” and this year the auction will be online. The event begins on August 1 and closes the 9. Visit their website at nantucketlightshipbasketmuseum. org for details on how to buy tickets.

A donation to any and all of our island’s museums ensures their work will continue moving forward. Shopping at the museums’ online gift shops like nantucketmuseumshop. org will help them work toward that same goal. Some gift shops, like The Whaling Museum’s, remain open for convenient curbside pickup of your purchase.

NHA Executive Director James Russell puts it best: “Underscoring all the above is the firm belief that cultural institutions like the NHA can be places of healing during a time of crisis. We are fortunate to have large open indoor spaces, and the concept of ‘seeing-not-touching’ is widely understood when visiting a museum. Providing a sanctuary is important this year, particularly as other indoor entertainment options are limited.”

Though island museums are optimistic about opening in the near future, it is important to bear in mind that the situation is fluid. Situations could change in any direction at any time, but we remain hopeful that we are on the right path. All of these essential parts of the island’s identity are not for profit ventures, and they are all being challenged financially. As one of Nantucket’s oldest non-profits, the Maria Mitchell Association has established the 2020 Emergency Resiliency Fund at mariamitchell. org and held an innovative “Wish Upon a Star” fundraiser with a very practical and hard-to-find prize. Your support at any level will have an imediate impact on their staff, animals, research, and facilities.