After 14 months, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum reopens Wednesday
The latest venue to reopen after shutting down because of the pandemic is the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center.
For the first time in 14 months, visitors can go inside the 300,000-square-foot venue — the largest Native American museum of art and culture in the country — starting on Wednesday.
Joe Baker, the museum’s executive director, said, “We are so thrilled to be able to open those doors again to our members and our public. … It’s so wonderful to be able to re-energize the physical space and to repopulate it with a dedicated staff that’s really anxious to get back to work.”
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council announced in June 2020 that it wouldn’t reopen the museum to the public until this spring as it focused on reopening and stabilizing Foxwoods first.
Baker said, “I have observed that the Pequot Tribal Nation has done a very good job of ensuring the safety of not only its team members but also the general public. I think they've been very cautious about reopening these public spaces until there is good evidence to suggest we can create a safe environment for visitors.”
Baker said he sees this as the first phase of reopening, and the museum will fully ramp up over the next couple of months. By this summer, museum-goers will be able to see the museum's basket collection in a newly installed exhibition area, he noted.
The COVID protocols people would expect will be in place. As of now, masks are required of everyone. Hand sanitizing stations will be set up around the site, and personnel will regularly clean and disinfect high-touch public and back-of-house areas. The museum encourages visitors to maintain a safe social distance and be aware of each other in the exhibition areas. And, Baker noted, “The advantage that we have is that our exhibition spaces are large. It’s going to be easy for this museum to maintain that social distance as compared to other museums that have more constricted space.”
Baker said all museums have had to reinvent how they do business during the COVID shutdown. He said the Cultural Coalition has been “a godsend” because it kept museum directors in the region connected. They have been able to share their stories and activities while being closed to the public.
“It’s really a family, a community of museum professionals here in southeastern Connecticut that has come together to offer support to one another,” he said.
Busy during the closure
A half-dozen employees worked in the museum during the shutdown, doing all the things that need to be handled in a site of that size and to continue to care for the museum's collection — as an example, there are different humidity levels that have to be monitored.
Staff members also used the time to look at upgrading the lighting systems in the exhibitions and to perform some of the housekeeping that can be difficult to do when the site is open to the public.
Also, last summer, the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center and the Native Northeast Research Collaborative received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for $179,403 to fund a collaborative effort to digitize historical records of Pequot life in the first half of the 19th century. People — including community scholars and Mashantucket Pequot and Eastern Pequot tribal members — worked on that during the museum’s closure, and the project is now completed, he said.
Reaction to reopening
After the announcement was made that the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center would allow in visitors again, Baker said, there has been “a great deal of general enthusiasm and excitement about the fact that we’re going to be reopening. People have missed their visits to the museum. And I think after this amount of time, we all have this need to re-socialize and get back into life.”
For people who might not have ever been to the museum before, Baker pitched it this way: “It’s really a state-of-the-art facility that tells in detail the Pequot story of survivance and resistance. If you’re out and about and you really want to have an in-depth understanding of the Native experience in the northeast corridor, … the Pequot Museum is the place to go.”
What: Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center
Where: 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket
When: Opens Wednesday; hours 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. (last admission at 4 p.m.)
Admission: Ages 18-64 $22; ages 65 and up $17; ages 6-17 $13; kids under 5 free; college students with valid ID $17; members free
Contact: 1-800-411-9671, pequotmuseum.org