Getting the galleries ready: Two local art museums — Lyman Allyn and Florence Griswold — are gearing up to reopen
At the Florence Griswold Museum in mid-June, director of visitor services Matt Marshall carefully peeled off the back of an arrow decal and placed it on the floor of a hallway near the lobby.
He got out a tape measure to ensure the decal was 6 feet from a previous one as well as an even distance from each wall. He smoothed it onto the floor, took another decal and moved on.
So it goes when you’re preparing a museum to reopen with COVID rules in place.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont had said that indoor museums could open on June 17 as part of the state’s Phase 2 reopenings, following the coronavirus-related lockdown.
But art museums in southeastern Connecticut didn’t open on June 17. They were busy working to get their sites in line with current coronavirus safety recommendations.
First to open, on Tuesday, is the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London. Even better news for cash-strapped-during-COVID visitors: the Lyman Allyn is offering free admission for the entire summer.
The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme is welcoming back museum members on Wednesday and then the general public on July 7.
Two other venues — the Mystic Museum of Art and the Slater Memorial Museum — have not yet set reopening dates.
Lyman Allyn Art Museum
Lyman Allyn Director D. Samuel Quigley says finally being able to reopen the museum and let the public in is exhilarating.
“We are really looking forward to it. The museum people here, we love sharing the art we are privileged to steward. To see people coming in the door and enjoying that is truly fulfilling. We are very anxious to welcome people back and make them feel comfortable. And we look forward to sharing all the art ... with them again,” he says.
He says, in terms of COVID-related protocols, the museum is going to be doing things as much as possible in accordance with the governor’s guidelines.
“And so right off the bat, that means that we will be practicing social distancing and requiring masks for everyone in the building. We’re going to be taking people’s temperatures with an infrared touchless thermometer when they walk in the door,” he says.
As people were busy cleaning floors in another part of the building Tuesday, Quigley was placing some decals on the floors leading into various galleries, showing the direction of traffic flow and gallery capacity.
“We are going to try to have people monitor their own adherence to those guidelines, but in addition, we’re going to have additional personnel in and around the galleries, and monitoring the galleries with the normal video surveillance that we have, just to make sure people are considerate and thoughtful and abiding by those recommendations,” Quigley says.
“It’s a little bit weird because we generally try not to put constraints on people’s visits; we designed the galleries to be accessible in any way an individual wants to do it. But in light of the new situation, we’re changing that philosophy and are going to try to channel people through the gallery in a prescribed manner. It seemed to be a small concession for such a big problem.”
The Lyman Allyn is dramatically reducing its capacity for the immediate future; the building’s capacity, pre-COVID, was 380, but now the museum, of its own accord, will cap it at 108.
The capacity for each gallery varies a bit. As an example, the gallery where the Tiffany display is located will now hold a maximum of nine individuals or units, with units meaning a family or a couple.
New London residents have long been admitted for free at the Lyman Allyn, but this summer, everyone else will join them.
“We decided we would take this opportunity to just throw open the doors to everyone for free to try to eliminate another little hurdle about coming out and visiting,” Quigley says.
“It just seemed like a win-win situation where we could open our doors and make ourselves available for everybody, no matter what their financial situation is, and (they can) gain some solace or some stimulation from coming here … If we can provide a community service for the largest audience possible, that’s all for the better.”
Quigley says they did investigate the idea of timed ticketing, which some other venues are using, but it’s a fairly expensive proposition for the museum and so the Lyman Allyn won’t be going that route until it’s clearly necessary.
As for what people can see when they visit: the Lyman Allyn is holding over the exhibition “Stories of Resilience: Encountering Racism,” whose run was cut short because of the COVID shutdown. It will now remain on view through Aug. 2. The exhibition focuses on the lives of several preeminent New London residents who are Black — the challenges they have faced and the incredible accomplishments they have achieved.
Quigley notes that it was important for “Stories of Resilience” to be created in the first place, but it is even more timely now, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests for social justice.
Another, completely different exhibition will come into the Lyman Allyn on July 18: “Sweet Dreams: Confectionery Sculpture by Peter Anton.”
Anton, who lives in Fairfield, makes “oversized, hyper-realistic sculptures of food. Much of it could be characterized, I suppose, as junk food … doughnuts, candy, pizza, lollipops, ice cream cones. When I’m talking oversized, I’m talking 4-feet-square candy boxes and 6-feet-tall lollipops, really gigantic things and colorful and amusing,” Quigley says. “... He’s just got a vision of how food and especially sweet food connects with a lot of good feelings and pleasures.”
Quigley says it’s a wonderfully fun show that he thinks is going to be a nice antidote to the pressures people are currently facing in their daily lives.
Florence Griswold Museum
Discussing a couple of weeks ago how she feels as the Florence Griswold Museum prepares to welcome visitors again, three-and-a-half months after being closed due to the pandemic, Director Rebekah “Becky” Beaulieu said, “You know how, probably for many of us, you wake up at 3 a.m. and you’re really anxious? It’s like that, where I’m still anxious, but it’s tinged with a lot of excitement.
“I miss people,” she said. “One of the most thrilling things about the Florence Griswold Museum is that we have a thriving community, and we don’t get to see any of them right now. Even when I go in, behind the scenes right now, I get to hear colleagues in offices, and we shout to each other to say hello. It’s amazing to have that camaraderie coming back.
“Obviously, I’m so pumped to bring people back, but it is tempered with making sure we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, making sure that we’re doing it well. But I don’t know one person on the staff who hasn’t said, ‘I just can’t wait.’ We’re all so excited.”
There are, as with every place that’s reopening, lots of safety measures.
Over the course of four to six weeks, the museum staff worked on crafting the site’s business-resumption plan. Everyone had a chance to contribute to what is now an 18-page plan.
The new regulations aren’t an attempt to be oppressive or overly restrictive, Beaulieu says, but to show that the museum is prioritizing safety and health. Behind the scenes, for instance, rigorous new cleaning procedures have been in place.
“A benefit of being a museum is that people tend to come into museums expecting it to be an experience where there are certain rules to follow. All we’re doing is asking people to follow a few more temporary regulations, and that makes it a better visit for everybody,” she says.
Beaulieu says the number one protocol is wearing masks.
“I think there are a lot of different opinions about how useful masks are. Looking at the scientific data we’re seeing, there is a very clear-cut correlation between wearing masks and depressed rate of contagion. So knowing that, we’re making sure that not only are staff and volunteers always wearing masks but that we’re really making sure that everyone who visits does as well,” she says.
Visitors must buy tickets online at least 24 hours prior to when they want to visit. These are timed tickets, specifying people’s scheduled arrival time. Visitors can stay as long as they’d like at the site. About 15 people will be allowed in the galleries at the same time.
When people purchase a ticket, Beaulieu says, “You will be asked to OK a visitor code of conduct, and in that code of conduct, we lay out the expectations for visiting, which basically amounts to wearing a mask, keeping social distancing, following signage around the site, and that we encourage everyone to follow those for the safety of yourself and for your fellow visitors.”
When they get to the museum, they won’t head into the main building immediately but will go to the Rafal Landscape Center, located in a rustic barn, to check in. That location was selected as the visitor hub because it’s essentially an indoor/outdoor building with strong airflow.
The first exhibition up is “Fresh Fields: American Impressionist Landscapes from the Florence Griswold Museum.” Then, starting Oct. 3, comes an exhibition highlighting pieces from the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection, on its 20th anniversary.
“I think it’s going to be really great for everyone to come back and to experience some of the gems from the collection,” Beaulieu says.
And fans of the annual Wee Faerie Village should note that Flo Gris still plans to offer that in the fall.