Cultural events put on pause

Doctor and Boy Looking at Thermometer, 1954. Display advertisement for The Upjohn Company. ( Norman Rockwell Family Agency)

Traditional experiences at art, cultural and educational institutions are on pause in the Berkshires for the near future.
Many organizations throughout Southern Berkshire County like Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington and the Stockbridge-based Norman Rockwell Museum issued individual statements announcing temporary closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic last Friday, March 13.
On Sunday, March 15, Gov. Charlie Baker issued an emergency order limiting gatherings to 25 individuals and prohibiting on-premises consumption of food or drink at bars and restaurants, beginning on Tuesday, March 17 and effective until Monday, April 6. And on Monday, March 16, President Donald Trump issued guidelines to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people and limit discretionary travel.
For the Mahaiwe, canceled events include Norman Rockwell Museum’s Finding Home: We Are Stories on March 13, Met Opera in HD broadcasts of Der Fliegende Hollander on March 14 (including the pre-broadcast lecture by Scott Eyerly) and on March 18, Mahaiwe Education Programs school-time presentation of The Boy Who Could Sing Pictures on March 19, Close Encounters With Music’s The French Connection – Saint-Saëns, Debussy, Fauré on March 21, Mahaiwe Education Programs school-time presentation of Snowy Day and Other Stories on March 25, screening of The Blues Brothers on March 26, London’s National Theatre in HD broadcast of Cyrano de Bergerac on March 28, Bolshoi Ballet in HD broadcast of Romeo and Juliet on March 29, and screening of Pulp Fiction on April 2.
The performing arts nonprofit organization is offering ticket exchanges and refunds to its patrons, but its building will be closed to the public at this time. Acting Executive Director Janis Martinson directed those seeking a refund or a ticket exchange to call the Mahaiwe box office at 413-528-0100 during standard box office hours, which are Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.
“With the health and safety of our community in mind and in accordance with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Town of Great Barrington, and other recommendations, we are dimming the lights at the Mahaiwe for the coming month,” said Martinson. “During that time, we will be actively communicating with our patrons, and working to be ready to welcome audiences back when that is possible.”
The closure of Norman Rockwell Museum is the first time since opening in 1969, that there has been a public health threat that required a closure, according to Alyssa A. Stüble, communications manager for the museum. The museum is slated to stay closed until the end of the month.
Officials plan to re-evaluate that status on Wednesday, April 1, said Stüble.
“We will continue to share our digital museum offerings, including our online art and object collections, audio tours, and thousands of hours of video content so visitors can enjoy a virtual experience,” she said in a statement.
Great Barrington libraries remain open, for the time being, though Library Director Amanda DeGiorgis said that events have been canceled and meetings have been curtailed.
In the meantime, the library is offering unlimited renewals on all books, magazines, DVDs and audiobooks, so there is no need to come in if you don’t have to, said DeGiorgis.
But unlike the library and other area museums and cultural institutions, the Mahaiwe is a presenting organization not a programming organization, so there really isn’t a strong substitute for services, said Martinson.
That fact, she says, slightly stymies the delivery of their mission. As a result, she said that the closure has caused the organization to think about its creative value to the community.
“We’re planning for a world beyond COVID-19. We’re using this time to communicate with our constituency, improve operations and infrastructure and come out stronger on the other side,” she said.
The Mahaiwe employs 23 full- and part-time employees as well as other contracted personnel, according to Martinson.
Because a lot of planning goes into the scheduled events, not all of them have been canceled across the board. Those events, she said, help provide a large economic footprint for the regional economy for south county.
“We have a lot of events in the pipeline, so it’s not simple to plan for something unprecedented. … The uncertainty is the greatest challenge for any organization or individual,” said Martinson. “We’re taking things day by day, and week by week.”

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