Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: May 20, 2020

Outdoor is mostly out for these two Hartford museums

Thomas Loughman, CEO of the Wadsworth Atheneum, is stepping down. Photos | Bill Morgan Thomas Loughman, CEO of the Wadsworth Atheneum, is stepping down.

While museums are among the businesses that are permitted to reopen on Wednesday, don’t expect to see them welcome back visitors en masse anytime soon.

The fact that phase one reopening rules forbid indoor exhibits leaves many museums with few options, and there are additional complexities around securing an adequate supply of sanitizer and personal protective equipment that would be required to keep staff and visitors safe. 

Both the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford will remain shuttered for now, their respective chief executives told HBJ this week.

“We could do something outside but we really have a very small property,” said Pieter Roos, executive director of the Mark Twain House, located at 351 Farmington Ave. “We don’t really have a lot of options there.”

Even if he had spare acres, Roos is uncertain that patrons would eagerly flock back right now.  

“We hope to reopen at some point and we hope people actually come back,” he said.

Wadsworth CEO Thomas Loughman said the museum is planning a digitally guided tour of sculptures, art installations and historic architecture that exists on and around Wadsworth’s property.

“We knew that we wanted to get back to impact, back to making sure art was in people’s lives,” Loughman said.

[Read more: Downtown Hartford businesses take cautious approach to May 20 reopening]

But that doesn’t mean a return to business as normal. The walking tour and digital guide, which may be branded “Sculpture in the City,” could launch by month’s end, but it will be free of charge, and there are no plans to move any major Wadsworth exhibits outside.

“We think it’s the right thing to do,” he said of the free tour. “Going back to regular operations indoors, or what looks like regular operations, is going to take some time.”

A big reason for that is Wadsworth is having a tough time securing enough cleaning products. An order placed with its distributor back in late February has still not been filled yet, and the museum turned to spirits maker Hartford Flavor Co. to manufacture and sell it about 10 gallons of sanitizer. The museum has also acquired several thousand face masks for when its staff returns to the museum’s offices.
“That’ll get us started,” Loughman said.

But he worries that masks and gloves could quickly run out unless shortages ease.

Beyond cleaning, simply reopening museum employee offices comes with complications.

Under reopening rules, offices are only permitted to operate with 50% staffing present.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated overlay of responsibilities,” Loughman said. “Making all that safe and orderly just takes time.”

For now, employees of the Wadsworth and Mark Twain House are working from home.

There have been no furloughs, as the museums both received Paycheck Protection Program funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

PHOTO | Contributed
The Mark Twain House and Museum.

To tide over cultural cravings, the Mark Twain House has launched a virtual tour on its website and has also been hosting web seminars with authors.

The marketing department has been particularly busy as it prepares for a beefed up effort to lure day trippers once the museum is ready and allowed to reopen, even in a limited fashion.

Roos hopes that might be in June or July, but he can’t be sure. He said museum leadership has been formulating plans for group sizing, social distancing, and other safety measures once the time comes.

Visitor traffic is likely to be sparse, like in the winter months, rather than the typically busier summer period, Roos predicts.

“Overall, we’re losing huge money all the time,” he said. “It’s a real risk to the organization. There’s a limit to how long you can go on with this.”

Despite that, he’s trying to keep things in perspective. The museum can operate profitably, even with limited foot traffic. Meanwhile webinar participants have been donating generously to the museum during the pandemic, and his entire staff remains working and on the payroll.

Plus, he said, most businesses are in the same uncertain boat right now.

“This is not a sob story,” Roos said.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF