The Hermitage Museum and Gardens, a historic house and art museum located on twelve acres of woodlands and wetlands along the Lafayette River in Norfolk Virginia, is one of 110 organizations recently awarded a Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act grant from Virginia Humanities.
We caught up with Development Director Ashleigh Maggard over email to learn about how indoor and outdoor programming at the Hermitage have been transformed by Covid-19, and how the CARES grant has helped keep Hermitage staff employed through the transition to digital programming.
The Hermitage Museum and Gardens encompasses a historic house, a contemporary art gallery, and an outdoor garden area. How do these different settings come together in the Hermitage mission?
As a historic house and art museum, the Hermitage explores contemporary arts and offers its guests large scale immersive experiences. Through the gardens, the Hermitage fosters conversations about the impacts of the environment and the role of artists in the community. We welcome guests through free access to the gardens and grounds, diverse outreach and programming, and by hosting events that highlight our unique place in the region.
The Hermitage’s mission is to preserve the distinct beauty of its natural environment; conserve and share its multi-cultural collection; promote and educate to inspire an appreciation for art and nature; and cultivate a spirit of stewardship while paying tribute to its rich legacy.
Why did you apply for a CARES Act grant?
Our operations and revenue were greatly affected by the COVID-19 crisis – after program edits and event postponements, operations will be at around 50% of the planned 2020 calendar. In previous years, the Hermitage has relied on admission sales and public program revenue to maintain operating funds, which help cover staffing, utilities, marketing, research and programming, and upkeep of the gardens and grounds.
In accordance with directives from local, state, and federal governments, the Hermitage has had to close the museum, prohibiting public access for three months, postpone or cancel a majority of weddings, cancel our annual plant sale, and postpone our Garden Lecture Series.
How has the Hermitage adapted?
The Hermitage Board of Directors made the decision early on in the crisis that all full-time employees would remain in their positions. Staff immediately began brainstorming and collaborating on ways to make the museum and grounds accessible with digital technology.
For example, we converted the very popular six-part summer concert series to a three-part virtual concert series. We also delayed and shifted the opening of the summer exhibition, Unknown Outcome, A Coastal Virginia Collaboratory, and redirected two late summer public programs, which would have brought thousands of visitors to the grounds, to virtual events or postponed them until 2021.
How is the CARES Act grant helping you to continue your work?
The grant is being used for ongoing operations, continued maintenance of the gardens and grounds, and promotion and development of virtual resources and public programs to best serve the community during this time. Specifically, staff have been able to engage in more curated digital initiatives, ensure the property is safe and accessible to visitors upon reopening, and prepare for the upcoming exhibition, Unknown Outcome, which explores the effects of human impacts on the environment, particularly in Norfolk.
Unknown Outcome will be especially valuable to the coastal region as government leaders and community members continue to navigate an unclear future due to the looming effects of the COVID-19 crisis and ongoing climate change. As the museum begins to re-open to the public through the Governor’s directive of Phase 2 and Phase 3, public programming associated with the exhibition has been curtailed to fit within social distancing guidelines. In order to best serve the community, highlight the work, and bring awareness to the message of Unknown Outcome, the Hermitage will offer free admission throughout the exhibition and through the remainder of the year.