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Out & About: Upper Valley Museums left wondering what pandemic means for their future

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    Eight-year-old Corbin Bruley, left, and his brother, Jack, 9, cover their ears while Kim Nuttall Wolf, a reenactor at Fort No. 4 in Charlestown, N.H., demonstrates firing her musket on Sunday, October 9, 2016. The second annual "Women of the Fort" event took place over the weekend where visitors could see how women would have garrisoned the fort during the mid-18th century. (Valley News - John Happel) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph

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    Morgen Putnam, 8, left, and Fiona Morgan-Thomas, 10, right, listen to the instructions of mechanical engineer Deborah Sigel, of Shelburne, Vt., to make an origami project during "Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day" at the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018. The finished pieces of folded paper simulated a 25 meter star shade that works in conjunction with a telescope in space to help identify planets orbiting stars. Sigel helped design the shade, which needed to fold down into a 4-foot diameter space when not in use, while working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file — James M. Patterson

  • Timber framer Tim Baker, of, Canaan N.H. works on what used to be the Shaker Brothers Wood Working building on Feb. 1, 2017 in Enfield, N.H. It was built circa 1819 by the Shakers. Later it was a theater when owned by La Salette. The building is now being restored for the Enfield Shaker Museum. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/23/2020 9:07:08 PM
Modified: 5/23/2020 9:07:05 PM

In April and May, staff and volunteers at the Fort at No. 4 are traditionally busy planning events and ramping up for visitors to descend on the Charlestown-based historic site.

Instead, their attention has turned to applying for grants and figuring out how to adapt operations to the COVID-19 pandemic to prepare for a July opening, two months later than usual.

“Normally this time of year, we’d have school kids underfoot, people starting their summer plans,” said Wendy Baker, director at the open-air museum. “I would be scheduling and helping with tours and trying to organize events ... and because we’re not on-site on a daily basis, my attention is “How do I keep us afloat?’ ”

The Fort at No. 4 is one of many seasonal museums throughout the Upper Valley that ramp up operations in May and carry through the fall foliage season. Like other sectors of the economy, they stand to be impacted by a decline in tourism due to the pandemic, and they face a delicate balance between keeping their balance sheets healthy and keeping patrons and staff safe.

“A lot of activities trickle down and are ancillary-effected,” Baker said of the pre-Revolution British outpost that offers building tours and reenactments of colonial life. “And then you have to look to the future, when you reopen. Most of our volunteers are 70 and above. How do we safeguard them? How do we let the public touch anything? This is pretty challenging for museums, particularly for museums whose stock in trade is the sensory pieces.”

Windsor’s American Precision Museum, which showcases the history of the machine tool industry through exhibits and lectures, opened Saturday at 25% capacity.

“We’ll probably limit to eight to 10 people in the exhibit hall at the time,” said Executive Director Steve Dalessio, who took the reins of the nonprofit organization in September. “The biggest restriction is that all visitors will have to wear masks, and we will provide them if they don’t have their own.”

They’ll also be encouraged to use hand sanitizer. People will need to adhere to social distancing guidelines and there will be no hands-on activities. Also, the museum will be closed from 1-1:30 p.m. each day it is open so staff can sanitize it. That half-hour cleaning is one of three that will take place throughout the day.

“We’re going slow. I guess that’s the best way to describe it. Take one step, make sure everything is good, and go forward,” Dalessio said. “We’re excited for not only the museum, but also the Windsor area to get something open.”

The busiest time of the year for the museum tends to be mid-July through mid-August, followed by another big wave during fall foliage season, he said.

“The thing that I stress most here is being flexible,” Dalessio said. “All of our summer programs will be able to be moved. It’s about being flexible and going with the conditions on the ground.”

In Enfield, the Shaker Museum that sits on Mascoma Lake does not have a set opening day. The museum features tours of historic Shaker structures, lectures and workshops in gardening and art, among other activities.

“It’s not that you can’t open up when the order is lifted, but we want to do this right. We’re having a lot of meetings about what to do. Do we let people in the buildings? How many do we let in at one time? Do we go into reserve tours?” said Shirley Wajda, interim director of the Enfield Shaker Museum. “We also are thinking about smartphone tours so that people would feel more comfortable and we would protect employees and interpreters as well.”

Wajda hopes the museum will be able to open in time for the popular Fourth of July singalong.

“It just may be outside this year if we get to open up,” she said.

The Shaker Museum also serves as lodging site, which could further complicate their reopening process.

“This is another dilemma. What if the governor says it’s OK for hotels, but not OK for museums?” Wadja said.

Like the Fort at No. 4 and the Precision Museum, the Shaker Museum is working to increase its social media presence to connect with the community. Staff have also taken on preservation projects.

“It’s been an interesting way of recommitting to our mission and putting it out there in new ways,” Wajda said. “When we finally get to open for the season were going to really be able to show folks new things.”

The busiest time of year for the museum is fall, where events such as the Shaker Harvest Festival draw a sizable crowd. Maybe not this year.

“We’re rethinking festivals,” Wajda said.

People are currently welcome to come to the museum to walk the grounds, as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines.

The museum directors agreed that being able to adapt to the evolving guidelines is key in moving forward.

“It’s all a study in flexibility,” Baker said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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