Local Organizations and COVID-19: New Canaan Museum & Historical Society


For today’s Q&A with a local organization navigating the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hear from Nancy Geary, executive director of the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society. The God’s Acre organization reopens Tuesday.

Here’s our exchange.

New Canaanite: The New Canaan Museum & Historical Society was forced to close months ago, with many other nonprofit organizations. One thing we’re hearing from many of them is that the COVID-19 health-related restrictions have hurt fundraising efforts, such as through event cancellations. How has the pandemic affected the NCMHS?  

Nancy Geary, executive director of the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society

Nancy Geary: The closure had a huge financial impact on the NCM&HS.  Our big fundraiser—Step into Summer —was cancelled. In addition, our major spring art exhibition, which was to open in April, was postponed until November. And the Ice Cream Social, which brings 500 people onto the campus, was cancelled. So what were to be major sources of funding disappeared overnight. In addition, the biennial Modern House Day Tour, which was scheduled for October 2020 and is both a fundraiser and an enormous signature event for the NCM&HS, has been postponed until 2021 so the pandemic will have a dramatic impact on the next fiscal year, too.

What has this been like for you?  

Although I have been in and out of the buildings over the past three months, I realize how much the visitors shape the feel of the day. Normally, lots of my time is spent engaged with people who have questions, want tours and information, or come to see exhibitions. That all disappeared.  That said, working from home has its advantages. I will miss having so much time with my family.

You’re reopening Tuesday. What can NCMHS members and visitors expect in terms of resources and services available?  

We are eager to welcome visitors. The library and research facilities will be fully available and our librarian is back in the office to help. We are also offering tours to individuals or families that have sheltered in place of all the campus museums. We encourage people to come explore the Hanford-Silliman House, the Tool Museum, the Cody Pharmacy and the Rock School. Talking Shop, an exhibition that opened in January, is extended through the summer so there is that to see as well. And lots of people have wanted puzzles—which we have in stock—so visitors can also browse in the gift shop.

How will you operate differently, given the state’s guidelines and restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the virus?  

The biggest difference is that numbers will be limited. There will be no more than three researchers in the library at any one time. Tours will be offered to individuals or to families who have been sheltering in place together. For tours, reservations will be required and for research, we encourage reservations to guarantee a space. We will also require masks for all visitors (we have them available) as well as gloves for anyone wanting to handle documents or materials. And the bathrooms will not be available at this time. We will be cleaning surfaces regularly and taking the temperatures of staff daily.

What is your message to the community?  

On a personal note, I have been incredibly impressed by the way in which the town has come together to support local businesses, to protect its residents, and, especially, to keep seniors safe. The collaboration and help has been extraordinary. I hope that this spirit of community and compassion continues even when this current crisis passes. On a professional note, the NCM&HS has taken this time to examine its role as the only museum dedicated to the history of New Canaan. We are transitioning to increase our technological capabilities and our reach, and we are collaborating with other local institutions to be a more integral part of the cultural life of this town. So I am excited about the future. This summer is a great time to explore the NCM&HS.

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