Just as shifting Covid-19 policies have affected Middlebury College students, staff and faculty, they have also impacted visitors’ access to certain parts of the college. Recently, outside visitors, including families of students as well as local community members, have been allowed to attend sports games and performing arts events, and the Middlebury College Museum of Art will be open to all as of April 15. These changes create ample opportunities for members of the local community to participate further in college spaces.
Middlebury College Museum of Arts reopens after rehang
The re-opening of the museum means that at the museum, people will soon be able to visit without making reservations in advance. Jason Vrooman ’03, the chief curator and director of engagement for the museum, spoke about the museum’s new phase.
“[The museum staff] hope it can be a place to meet lots of different needs and interests,” Vrooman said. “We would be thrilled if our permanent collections and exhibitions can be a place for enjoyment and for conversations. We have similar goals for the local and campus communities: that the museum is a place to think and explore the world in a new way.”
Theresa Harris, a member of the Friends of the Museum Board and a local resident, works on publicizing museum information as one of many tasks. She explained that over time, and with the skills she’s learned from her job as director of Edgewater gallery, she has learned more about the best ways to inform and attract potential museum visitors.
Harris explained that the Friends of the Art Museum program functions to increase outreach and membership, working to attract alumni as well as those currently connected to the college and the local community. She looks forward to increased opportunities to bring students and younger children to the museum through potential school field trips and drawing sessions.
“I think that’s very important,” Harris said. “Many people in the Middlebury community do not realize the resource that exists in their town.”
Vrooman echoed these sentiments, saying, “Although in many ways Midd students, professors and staff are a very important audience, we really want to be a resource for the community. It’s very exciting that in a rural area people can come and see the world.”
Both Vrooman and Harris spoke of their excitement for museum visitors to see the drastic museum rehang that has taken place. The museum has changed its permanent collection installations to have a more of a global approach, with exhibitions organized around themes rather than certain time periods or geographic areas. There will also be more frequent variation, not just among the temporary exhibitions, but throughout the permanent collections as well.
“We’re hoping the museum is telling more stories,” Vrooman said.
Students also have a large role at the museum, and can sign up to be student friends of the art museum, which gives them free membership and information about upcoming events at the museum, as well as other perks.
Indeed, some Middlebury students serve as Museum Ambassadors, training to lead tours of the museum for students, senior groups and others.
“The reopening marks an exciting return to in-person connections between Middlebury students and the local community,” Vrooman said. It will also rebuild and strengthen connections between the local community and the museum itself.
The Middlebury College Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Friday and Sunday. More information can be found on their website.
Sporting events welcome back locals
Sporting events have also opened up to the public recently. As Erin Quinn, director of athletics, explained, no spectators were able to watch sporting events when they started in January. Around mid-January, students were permitted to attend. Beginning in February, college policy permitted certain events, including sports, to be open to all. This included Middlebury faculty, staff and families as well as people from the local community.
“Many of our student-athletes feel a strong connection to the local community from various volunteering activities and an appreciation for the support they get from fans in the local community. Obviously some of these interactions have been limited during the pandemic, but for ice hockey, for example, they would typically do a ‘Skate with the Panthers’ game to encourage families to attend games and meet the players and skate with them after the game.”
Indeed, support from locals has been enthusiastic, and sporting events create a nice opportunity to bring many people together. This was especially true at the women’s ice hockey championship.
“Over 2,000 friends attended each game, providing enthusiastic support and a fantastic atmosphere for the team that had such an amazing season,” Quinn said. “This was particularly gratifying because we had started spring break so many students had left campus. Fortunately, some students were still able to attend, which was greatly appreciated, but the community provided the appropriate championship atmosphere.”
Mahaney Arts Center continues to offer both in-person and virtual events
Events at the Mahaney Arts Center (MAC) have been open to the public since fall 2021. As Liza Sacheli, director of MAC explained, although arts events by and for students still ran last academic year, MAC events were closed to the public from March 2020 through August 2021.
“The MAC's audiences, in the aggregate, are generally one third Middlebury students; one third Middlebury faculty, staff, alumni and emeriti (basically, folks that are part of Middlebury's extended family); and one third community members. Both before the pandemic and now, we have welcomed audience members from all of these groups. But students are always our most important audience,” Sacheli explained.
“One of our primary goals is to build a sense of community through the arts,” she added. “Having a diverse audience helps do that — it allows people of different backgrounds and identities to have a shared experience.”
The pandemic did, however, create an opportunity for a series of free, virtual events. On average, over 500 people attended each virtual event, while Robinson Hall only seats 372.
“Though we missed welcoming live audiences into our venues, the silver lining was that by going virtual, we reached a much wider audience than usual,” Sacheli said.
Now, even though public visitors are allowed into MAC performances, virtual streaming options are still offered for many live events, and a few concerts have been kept free.
Julia Pepper '24 (she/her) is the Senior Local Editor.
She previously served as a Local Editor. She is a Psychology major and French minor. This past spring she studied in Paris. She spent the summer interning at home in New York City, putting her journalistic cold calling skills to use at her internship doing outreach with senior citizens. In her free time she enjoys reading and petting cats.