Collaborative effort; bilingual apps; recasting a museum’s holdings. Using a particular fine art or natural history collection as a starting point by which to explore history and values of a particular place and time. Changing the perception that cultural institutions are elitist — and remaking them as egalitarian centers that embrace and foster New England’s sense of place.
The museum world is changing, as workshops at the 100th anniversary conference of the New England Museum Association in Stamford, Connecticut, recently attested. With more little-to-large institutions per capita than any other region in the country, New England is revitalizing many of its offerings in highly creative ways. One need only think of the demographic changes that have occurred in so many New England regions as waves of new immigrants have added their voices and customs to those who came before them. No question, there are big demographic changes occurring, ushering in both challenges and great opportunities. And institutions are seriously addressing the ways in which they attract visitors and keep them coming through their doors.
At Fitchburg Art Museum, the region’s large Spanish-speaking population, for instance, can access Spanish translations of all the plaques in the Egyptian gallery on their smartphones or tablets. The innovation was spurred by Kledia Spiro, a member of the Fitchburg State University’s Communications Media Department, who enlisted her students in the design and content. The aim is to draw Spanish-speaking children, millennials and elderly from a previously untapped part of the community, which is nearly 40 percent Latino, Spiro said.
One need only look around at the regional arts days that introduce families to multiple institutions over the course of one intensive day, or at the multiple special events that dot the holiday calendar, showcasing a cornucopia of beautiful stops along New England’s vibrant arts trails. One can take in an evening theater performance at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut, in evening soirées mounted in conjunction with the Goodspeed Opera Company. A beautiful old home is once again bathed in evening light and its rooms are filled with music. A plethora of decorated holiday trees, concerts and special Christmas fairs are a highlight for families, whether it’s giving us a glimpse of how Mark Twain’s family would have marked the season in Victorian times, or perhaps how a minimalist at the Washington Art Association would base its current artisan sale in modernist abstraction.
Enrichment programs that tap an institution’s distinctive holdings are also proliferating — one finds them at the New Britain Museum of Art, in a new series that explores the music underscoring values during various periods in American history.