Berkshires museums ready for reopening

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It's beginning to feel like summer has arrived.

Next weekend, the three largest museums in the Berkshires — the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Norman Rockwell Museum and the Clark Art Institute — will reopen. Mass MoCA will reopen at 10 a.m. July 11; the Rockwell and The Clark will reopen at 10 a.m. July 12.

On Friday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced the third phase of the state's four-phase reopening plan would begin Monday. Museums, as well as cultural and historical sites, are included in the first step of phase three, along with movie theaters, outdoor performance venues, fitness center and health clubs, professional sports teams and certain indoor recreational activities.

In a joint statement, Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Rockwell, Olivier Meslay, director of The Clark, and Mass MoCA director Joseph Thompson, welcomed the opportunity to reopen their doors, which have been shuttered since the governor closed all nonessential businesses in March.

"We are delighted to be able to reopen our doors and to welcome back our friends, neighbors, and new visitors. We strongly believe in the restorative power of art and cannot wait to share our galleries and grounds with our guests," the statement read. "We are committed to providing the safest experiences possible and have been working hard to ensure that our visitors will be comfortable in returning under new norms."

Advance ticket reservations will be required at each museum. Admission will be allocated on a timed basis to provide staggered entry, consistent with the commonwealth's reduced capacity guidelines.

Mass MoCA admission tickets are available now at massmoca.org. Performance tickets go on sale Tuesday. The first live performance for the general public, Treya Lam in concert, will take place July 18. A members-only gallery preview and concert, by SayReal, will take place on July 11.

Admission tickets for The Clark go on sale Tuesday at clarkart.edu. Admission tickets for the Norman Rockwell Museum go on sale on at noon Tuesday at nrm.org.

All three institutions will debut new work in their respective galleries when they reopen.

Mass MoCA will open "Kissing through a Curtain," which was originally scheduled to open March 21, along with two new exhibitions, Wendy Red Star's "Apsaalooke: Children of the Large-Beaked Bird," in Kidspace, and Blane De St. Croix's "How to Move a Landscape," in the museum's triple-height gallery.

"I think we'll be unveiling 100,000-square feet of new art at 10 a.m. on July 11," Thompson said during a phone interview. "We've been able to do this because we won one of those PPE loans and were able to begin hiring back some of our colleagues some eight weeks ago. They've been toiling away with the artists, who can't wait to show their work to the public."

The museum laid off 120 of its 165 employees in April. Thompson said a skeletal crew of 42 employees remained after the April layoffs.

"We added back another 25 or so about eight weeks ago and that enabled us to do the art installation work and the prep work to restructure the museum," he said. "On Monday and Tuesday, we'll be welcoming back 34 or so folks, many of whom will be familiar faces. We won't be back at 100 percent, but we'll have a solid 75 to 80 percent of our roster of employees back."

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The ability to bring back the remaining staff members will rely on ticket sales.

"We're also dipping our toes, very carefully into the performing arts arena with our first public concert on July 18. We're going to test the waters with a members-only concert on July 11. Of course, they will be outside and relatively small and highly distanced," Thompson said. "It will be a completely different vibe."

Patrons will also need to register in advance to visit Kidspace and "James Turrell: Into the Light."

Three new exhibitions — "Liza Donnelly: Comic Relief," "Rose O'Neill: Artist and Suffragette," and "Norman Rockwell: Murder in Mississippi," will open on July 12. "Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration," which was scheduled to open in June has been postponed until next summer.

"We had to do a major pivot because of all the unknowns [caused by COVID-19] and with all the loans from other museums, that were also closed, and private collectors, being unable to happen. We do have a wonderful catalog of the show coming out that will give a sneak preview of what's coming next summer," Norton Moffatt said. "I'm delighted with exhibits we're hosting this summer, which are very timely and very uplifting."

In all, the Rockwell Museum has a total of nine newly installed galleries.

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Although museum visitors will be routed through the galleries in a certain order, guest will be able to wander in the galleries once they are in them. Individual galleries will be able to host a limited number of guests at one time.

"There won't be any crowds in the galleries. It will feel more like you are visiting in the winter or spring," Norton Moffatt said. "It's going to be a luxurious and peaceful experience. It will be a little more structured."

Like Mass MoCA, closure due to the novel coronavirus resulted in layoffs, furloughs and pay reductions at the Rockwell in April.

"The museum has had to become smaller. We permanently laid off 20 percent of our employees — 12 staff positions were reduced — and furloughed all of our frontline staff. Everyone who was furloughed has been invited back," Norton Moffatt said.

Prior to the pandemic, the museum had about 65 employees, a combination of full- and part-time positions.

"We're probably just under 50 employees now," she said.

Volunteer staff has not yet been recalled, as the museum is limited by how many employees it can have in the museum as part of its overall reduced number.

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The museum's grounds remain free and open to the public during museum hours.

The Clark Art Institute's 140-acre campus will also remain open to the public following its reopening on Sunday.

"We have been looking forward to this for many months and it is arriving at the right moment," Meslay said in a phone interview.

The museum will debut three shows this summer, including "Ground/Work," The Clark's first-ever outdoor sculpture show.

"Lines from Life: French Drawings from the Diamond Collection," which was scheduled to open in March, will open Sunday and remain on view through Dec. 13. "Pia Camil: Vel Revelo," which opened in February, will remain on view through Jan. 3. "Lin May Saeed: Arrival of the Animals," will open in August and remain on view through October.

The previously announced "Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne: Nature Transformed" now will be on view at The Clark from May 8 to Oct. 31, 2021, while "Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway" will be on view for three months, from June 19 to Sept. 19, 2021.

""Ground/Work' is already open in a way," Meslay said, referring to the exhibit's first installation, "Teaching a Cow How to Draw," by Analia Saban, being already installed. "Because their is no cap on 'Ground/Work' or to go on to our trails, we have kept our grounds open and free. When we decided to do keep them open [in March], we were not really thinking we could shut it down. It's incredible, the impact of these trails, had on our community. We have received so many messages from people of how grateful they are the trails remained open."

The Clark does have a cap for the number of admissions allowed at one time, although Meslay said he does not anticipate have lines in the immediate future.

"For the first three to four weeks, we think we will manage the attendance well. The two main aspects of this 'new normal' are people will have to wear masks and we will have to cap the number of people in the individual galleries." he said.

Unlike other museums, The Clark did not reduce its staff or furlough employees. Meslay attributed that fact to the museum having sufficient financial resources and already being in its "winter staff mode."

"In the winter, we're reduced to our core staff," he said. "During the summer, our staff grows. This summer, we will not be able to hire the usual summer crew we are used to having, as we do not know what attendance will be."

All three directors remain optimistic about welcoming the public back.

"We're on pins and needles," Thompson said. "We're relying on our patrons to be partners in this effort, to follow the guidelines and the protocols. I'm convinced our audience, people, are hungry for that [museum] experience and will do everything possible to be safe."


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