Summer's not canceled! Berkshire museums, other cultural sites lay groundwork for reopening

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Summer in the Berkshires has not been canceled — it's just going to be a little different this year.

On the heels of numerous season cancellations and postponements by Berkshire performing arts institutions, seven Southern Berkshire institutions announced Friday, in a joint statement, their commitment to welcome visitors this summer.

The organizations — Berkshire Botanical Garden, Chesterwood, Hancock Shaker Village, Naumkeag Historic House and Gardens, the Norman Rockwell Museum, The Mount and Tanglewood's grounds — all will open to the public in some fashion this summer. The majority will open their grounds first, as they prepare to reopen as part of phase three of the Baker administration's four-phase COVID-19 reopening framework, expected to begin in July.

"I think this is an exciting opportunity for our community, especially when we've all been so sad that our performing arts sister institutions have had to forfeit an entire season for the safety of their artists and the visiting public," Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum, said during 1Berkshire's Virtual Town Hall: Summer in the Berkshires — Happening! But how? on Friday.

"This is a real loss in our community, both from a cultural and healing perspective as well as the financial impact. We're just so pleased that we do have sites with grounds."

The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown and The Mount, Edith Wharton's home and garden estate in Lenox, have allowed visitors on their grounds, free of charge, since March. Both plan to keep their grounds open to the public, asking visitors to follow state-mandated social distancing rules and to wear masks.

And while the Boston Symphony Orchestra canceled all programming at Tanglewood this summer, its grounds will be open to the public weekends and Wednesday mornings; advanced registration will be required at Tanglewood.org beginning June 15.

But, even when these and other cultural and historic institutions around the Berkshires are allowed to reopen, in part or in full, what "open" looks like for each institution will be different.

One thing is for sure: Initially, there will be no sporadic trips to visit your favorite cultural institution. Timed ticketing of admissions, limited admissions, one-way paths and hallways, controlled access and flow through a property, as well as face coverings, social distancing and hand sanitizer will be the new normal.

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Some Berkshire institutions are open or preparing to open under the new guidelines.

Brian Cruey, director of The Trustees of Reservations' Southern Berkshire portfolio, which includes Naumkeag and seven other properties, said during the virtual town hall that while many of the outdoor properties were open during the COVID-19 emergency order, Naumkeag and Monument Mountain remained closed until recently.

Naumkeag opened its gardens Thursday with controlled access to the Stockbridge property through an online parking pass reservation system. The house, cafe, gift shop and restrooms remain closed.

"We're taking in about 20 cars an hour now for people to walk through the garden. Monument Mountain, we're going to open on Tuesday," he said. "We're looking forward to that, and I know a lot of other people are, too."

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Hancock Shaker Village will have a limited opening beginning Thursday, with visitors confined to its outdoor spaces. Its popular Baby Animals event will take place in newly constructed outdoor pens and fenced-in areas. The village will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, through at least the end of June, with a return to full operations in early July as part of phase three.

Admission tickets must be purchased in advance, either online or by phone. Visitors will not be able to touch the animals or get into the pens, but they will have the opportunity to visit with baby goats, sheep and calves up close.

Berkshire Botanical Garden's 86th season will begin June 8, with the garden opening from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission will be by prepaid, timed ticketing beginning Thursday. Tickets can be purchased at berkshirebotanical.org or by calling 413-298-3926 to reserve. All public buildings will be closed, and one-way paths through the garden will be established.

Chesterwood in Stockbridge is hoping to reopen its grounds by the end of June for self-guided tours of the landscape, gardens and contemporary outdoor sculpture show.

The site is "setting up a system for timed, limited, required parking passes purchased and downloaded online," Margaret Cherin, manager of marketing and business operations, said in an email.

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"During our opening phase none of our buildings will be open and there will be no formal guided tours," she said. "We envision a phase two in which our tour guides lead socially distanced landscape and garden tours."

In North Adams, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is preparing for a July opening.

"Of course we'll do that with enhanced health and safety protocols in place throughout our massive indoor and outdoor spaces; friendly staff to welcome visitors; beer, barbeque and ice cream available for take out, and best of all — an abundance of new art to explore," Jodi Joseph, Mass MoCA's director of communications, said in an email.

Norton Moffatt said that although phase three is expected to begin during the first week of July, at the earliest, the Rockwell is aiming to open mid-July. She said the move will allow the museum time to put in place mechanisms to modulate the flow of visitors through the museum and implement required social distancing and sanitization requirements.

"We will be deciding how many people physically can meet in one space," she said. "It will be a luxurious experience to have the privacy to look at art with only a handful of people in each space."

Other organizations, such as The Clark and The Mount, have yet to set firm opening dates as they wait for more guidance from the state.

"While we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to reopen for tours in some capacity this summer, I can' yet answer when that will be," said Rebecka B. McDougall, The Mount's communications and community outreach director. "We're trying to err on the side of caution."

In the meantime, The Mount is continuing its online programming, which soon will include virtual tours, virtual ghost tours, architectural insights and more.


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