June 2, 2020

Local Museums — Including FloGris — Continue Fight for Funding, Foot Traffic with Innovative Marketing

Exterior of the Thankful Arnold House in East Haddam.

AREAWIDE — Lisa Malloy, executive director of the Thankful Arnold House as well as the Haddam Historical Society, has been an almost one-woman show ever since she started working at her small historical house over 17 years ago. However, she—as well as many other Connecticut museums—have seen the tide shift from when she first arrived: foot traffic has dwindled.

“Connecticut has a wonderful collection of museums and historic sites each with a special story to tell. We all share similar issues—fundraising, getting volunteers, programming ideas, board issues, and so on,” chuckles Malloy. “I can say that all small historical societies and museums are intensely dedicated to their sites and missions and love sharing their stories with others.”

According to the state of Connecticut’s official tourism website, Visit CT, there are over 200 museums, historical houses and galleries in Connecticut, all with something impactful to share. Paving the roads to the past, however, come at a price with many museums pushing to overcome struggles with finances, foot traffic and successful marketing in their own way.

The Fight for Foot Traffic

The Thankful Arnold House.

The Thankful Arnold House may be a small museum but its historical significance packs a punch. Located in East Haddam, Conn., the Thankful Arnold House is an 18th century historical house museum that used to belong to Joseph Arnold and his wife, Thankful Arnold.

Although Malloy had some footing in her earlier days of working for the Thankful Arnold House, things weren’t as great as they could have been. Malloy’s relationship with one of their fundraisers was a bit shaky and things needed to be improved upon within the exhibits.

“The Thankful Arnold House and Haddam Historical Society were on fairly firm ground when I started in 2002,” said Malloy. “However, our ability to share Haddam’s history, display artifacts and have exhibits was non-existent. Also, our reliance on our one big fundraiser was precarious and we did not have a website.”

Although Malloy has a variety of people who use and visit her museum throughout Connecticut, many of those are out of town guests who generally only come once on vacation or are in the area visiting.

“We try to appeal to them as a small one-on-one experience where you can learn about 19th century women and a typical middle-class family of the lower Connecticut River,” said Malloy.

Malloy explains that she understands the fight for getting people through the door and just like many other museums, turned to foot traffic during these times and hoped that funding followed close behind.

“To keep old visitors returning we have instituted a changing local history display,” said Malloy. “We have offered different types of tours such as what a 19th century wedding would have looked like, candlelit tours. We also get visitors to return using our garden and by offering different programs. In addition, we hold different talks and craft programs on-site, which draw return visitors.”

Malloy also implemented an online presence to attract a newer audience for the museum with an in-depth website, which has been called “one of the best historical society websites in the state” according to CT Museum Quest.

“We now also are active on social media and try to bridge the gap between the generations of newsletters and blogs by sending out a bi-monthly e-newsletter,” said Malloy.

After implementing these techniques, Malloy and the Haddam Historical Society found themselves with sold-out events with one of their biggest hits being their October tours of a local historical jail, when almost 600 people attended.

“Our local support has quadrupled,” Malloy said. “We also have developed a fundraising strategy where we have a large event yearly, usually social with a history twist, which has been extremely successful.

The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme is known as the Home of American Impressionism.

Down the Connecticut River, Tammi Flynn, Marketing Director of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, had similar beginnings when she first started working for the museum in 1999 and found that exhibitions, events and attractions helped increase foot traffic.

The Florence Griswold Museum is both a historical house, which was once owned by Florence Griswold herself, who rented out her home to fellow artists that happened to stop in Old Lyme. Griswold’s house soon became a hub for the growth of American Impressionism and the artists who pursued their craft there became known as the Lyme Art Colony.

Alongside a historical house that you can tour, the museum also features an art gallery, two barns used for workspaces for aspiring artists, a garden, seasonal café and even a boardwalk along the Lieutenant River where the museum is located.

“Our exhibitions have ranged from contemporary art to schoolgirl needlepoint,” said Flynn. The historic house is always a draw for people and the grounds are extraordinary, especially since we opened the Artists’ Trail last summer.”

At the Fate of Finances

“Funding will always be the most difficult and important issue for small museums and historical societies,” said Malloy.

Although the Thankful Arnold House and Florence Griswold Museum found success in funding with their foot traffic, many that aren’t as lucky often seek out help from organizations such as the Connecticut Humanities (CTH), which can supply museums with grants and the source funding they need, plus Jason Mancini, Executive Director of Connecticut Humanities, is prepared to lend a hand.

“Since joining CTH just over two years ago, I have been rebuilding the financial foundation and strategic direction of a struggling organization,” said Mancini.

Mancini understands the financial struggles with keeping a museum afloat, as he struggled with similar problems with funding and foot traffic while he was the Director of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum for 22 years up until he joined CTH in 2017.

“At the time I became director of both organizations, they were struggling financially and with overall leadership vision and direction,” said Mancini. “The Pequot Museum essentially had one significant funding source and operating the museum required about half of the budget to support the physical building, an enormous undertaking that was always a fixed or increasing cost; staff size and composition was subjected to budgetary winds.”

According to the CTH website, the organization offers a handful of different grants as well as programs to increase foot traffic and funding such as their Steps CT program, where local museums, historical societies, and other cultural organizations can learn to fine-tune their organizations’ operations to increase services to their audiences.

Museums such as the Florence Griswold Museum as well as the Thankful Arnold House have used these types of programs to help foot traffic as well. The CT Art Trail, for example, is a nationally recognized partnership among 21 Connecticut museums to promote their businesses and CT Historical Gardens, which is dedicated to showing off 15 historical gardens in Connecticut.

The Florence Griswold Museum hosts numerous community events including a concert the evening before the Midsummer Festival in its ongoing efforts to engage with the local community.

Marketing within the Community

Flynn has found while working for the Florence Griswold Museum that connecting with a community–let alone one that is already passionate for art– is a strong marketing tool.

“We are gathering places for the community. Museums are not passive places,” said Flynn. “Gone are the stodgy buildings of painting after painting with boring labels. In a museum today you might find an artist doing a sketching demonstration, an interactive monitor, a musician, a hands-on project, you name it!”

Aside from the use of frequently-changing attractions and events, the Florence Griswold museum is constantly interacting with the community since, among many other ways, they host field trips for the local schools as well as participate in the town’s Memorial Day parade.

Flynn and the board of trustees at the Florence Griswold have learned that working with a community and creating a relationship with them creates a draw that not only brings people through the door but also, in turn, helps with funding.

“Art is a big part of Old Lyme’s history and what sets it apart from other towns. The museum helps to present that story,” said Flynn. “I feel that once people visit, they are hooked and will return. We often conduct visitor surveys and time after time, people respond that it’s the experience as a whole that they enjoy and often call their time at the museum ‘magical.’”

Malloy at the Thankful Arnold House attempted this technique as well when they hosted an exhibit, which focused on local artists and historical properties around town.

“We have been told it was one of the best tours people have ever attended,” Malloy said.

Although museums and historical societies throughout Connecticut continue to have different levels of struggle to keep their doors open, it’s apparent that each one of them powers through in pursuit of a united mission: to share the past with the present and keep its story alive.

“Connecticut’s museums and historical societies are small windows into our collective past–the people, places, ideas–that have shaped our society today and will continue to shape it in the future. For Connecticut, this is our best source material about where we live and why it matters,” said Mancini.

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Memorial Day at Old Lyme Beaches “Went Well” (Griswold), New COVID-Related Rules Change Role of the Rangers

Old Lyme Beach Rangers stand ready and waiting for the anticipated crowds at Sound View.

OLD LYME —  UPDATED MAY 29: We received this update a short time ago from Old Lyme First Selectman Timothy Griswold on how things went at the beaches this week. He said in a text, “Memorial Day weekend went very well at the beaches. Sunday had the best weather and, surprisingly, Sound View beaches all had some capacity available.” 

He added, “However, Sound View was full earlier this week.”

Beach-goers found heightened security this past Memorial Day weekend as the Old Lyme Rangers geared up to maintain social distancing rules at Sound View Beach. 

Although the weather was mostly overcast, the Old Lyme Rangers still kept a close eye on beach-goers during the weekend. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Old Lyme First Selectman in consultation with Town staff, Old Lyme Emergency Services and Miami Beach Association closed Old Lyme Town Beaches from May 2. The same group decided to reopen the beaches May 23 but at reduced capacity and with new social distancing rules in line with Connecticut Governor Lamont’s guidelines. 

In response, the Old Lyme Rangers altered their protocols for Sound View Beach for the past weekend and going forward to comply with the town and state’s social distancing rules. 

The “new normal” at Sound View Beach.

Matt Weber, resident state trooper for the Town of Old Lyme, believes that this past weekend went smoothly with the new protocol and is hopeful for a smooth transition for the rest of the summer.

“With a considerable amount of pre-planning and a joint collaboration among multiple Old Lyme departments, local businesses and beach associations, the weekend was safe and enjoyable for all that came,” stated Weber. “Beach goers should expect to see a better prepared and trained Ranger team with a focus on safety and to make sure proper social distance is maintained.”

According to the Town of Old Lyme’s website, public beaches and parking lots are to be cut off at half capacity, those on the beach must abide by social distancing rules, and also wear a mask when close contact is unavoidable. 

Signs indicate the status of parking lots.

To help regulate how many people are on the beach, Rangers are issuing patrons a beach pass that states on which side of the beach they entered and at what time. 

In case the passholder wants to temporarily leave the beach to use the restroom or dine at one of the surrounding restaurants, he or she will need to show their beach pass for re-entry. 

Beachgoers may only enter and exit at designated entrances and exits, must stay on the side of the beach they entered on, and are discouraged from roaming around. 

When beaches reach half capacity—at around 100 people in the case of Sound View—Rangers will deny access to the beach until some of the public leaves for the day. Although this weekend was fairly quiet due to the weather, Rangers had to close down the beaches on Sunday, but swiftly allowed more people onto the beach once others had exited. 

Although these social distancing enforcements are new this season, the Rangers have been monitoring Sound View Beach for quite some time. 

Beach rules, which are clearly posted, are enforced by the Old Lyme Town Rangers.

The Ranger program has run through the Town of Old Lyme’s Police Department for eight years and is used to implement the state’s public beach rules.

Over previous years, the Rangers’ duties consisted of checking coolers for alcohol or illegal substances, monitoring parking and enforcing beach rules. This year, however, Rangers are ready to enforce the new capacity and social distancing rules as well. 

Sara Urbowitz of Old Lyme, the first, female supervisor for the Rangers, is confident that things will go smoothly this summer. The Old Lyme Police Department is also clearly confident in her leadership, since Urbowitz was supervisor for previous summers as well.

“We have a great team of hand-picked Rangers this year, who are dedicated to their jobs,” Urbowitz explained. “The Ranger program has been provided with the tools and resources needed to be successful. I am confident that we will have a great summer!”

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MCCD Helps ‘Subway’ in Old Lyme Adapt to Pandemic Restrictions, Reminds Community It Can Assist Others Too

The ‘Subway’ store in the Old Lyme Marketplace, which is run by Debby Hans.

OLD LYME — Store owner Debby Hans has run the Halls Rd. Subway shop for more than five years and enjoyed the company of Lyme and Old Lyme community members when they would stop for a bite to eat. Hans was hit hard, however, when restaurants in Connecticut were forced to stop indoor dining due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Subway store owner Debby Hans.

“I remember watching the day that the sales first plummeted,” Hans said. “I went through lunchthe busiest part of our dayand it was lower than what sales are in the dead of winter.”

Many small businesses during this time have been hit hard due to the social distancing restrictions introduced in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. With owners wondering where to seek help, the Mentoring Corps for Community Development (MCCD) has been quick to  step up, reach out and lend a hand for those who might be struggling to keep their businesses afloat.

The MCCD is not a widely-known group but it is certainly influential in the local area. What then is the MCCD and who are its members?

The organization’s website explains that the group has been around for some eight years and successfully worked on over 100 projects for non-profits, for-profits, and schools. Consisting of 10 members, each member brings, “… years of experience from business, government and/or child raising careers.”

The MCCD sums up its mission in the expressive words, “We will consider taking on almost any assignment within our skill set that will add sparkle to New London and Middlesex Counties.” As a project unfolds, members volunteer for projects related to their strengths from previous careers or those that they’re simply interested in doing. 

MCCD Board Member Dennis Powers

Dennis Powers of Essex, a board member of MCCD, admits that everyone involved is strongly passionate about the camaraderie of the group’s mission.

“We’re not in it for money, we’re trying to put something back into the community,” said Powers. “It’s very rewarding because we have the time and the interest we can bring.”

Hans came in contact with MCCD when her Subway shop first took off in 2015, and noted that they would occasionally check up on her and give her pointers for her business along the way. 

“Debby’s different,” said Powers. “We worked with her three years ago at least, she’s a terrific client because she’s very capable. If you give her an inch, she’ll run with it like mad.”

When Hans’ sales first plummeted, she called Subway headquarters for advice but was only told to wait out the storm. Although Hans’ store already had online ordering services, it just wasn’t enough to suffice. 

The interior of the Subway store has been remodeled under Debby Hans’s management.

“When your sales plummet, you’re scared to death. You either have to close temporarily or permanently,” said Hans. “I felt isolated and alone. You stand in your store; you’re surrounded by it. You feel like your store is the only one going through this.” 

The MCCD recognized Hans’ struggle and quickly went to action with finding the financial support she needed but was surprised when Hans swiftly took action herself. 

Gerry Guild of Lyme, who is a board member of MCCD.

“She’s very receptive, and listened to everything we had to say,” said Gerry Guild of Lyme, also a board member of MCCD. “We tried to point out some various ways she could get some financial help because only being able to sell take-out service was a big change in her business.” 

Hans applied for a Paycheck Protection Loan (PPP) program through the Small Business Administration for her business as instructed by MCCD, which gave her tremendous latitude: Hans’s loan allowed her to take 100 percent deductions for any expenses that she may incur for payroll, utilities or rent, which, in turn, allowed her both to keep her employees on the payroll and erase the worry about paying rent and utilities for the next month. 

Hans emphasized she was extremely appreciative of the guidance that MCCD had given her and encouraged other businesses not only to understand that they aren’t alone but also realize that there are people willing to help. 

“They [MCCD} were awesome; like they were a big brother watching over me,” Hans explained enthusiastically, adding, “It was great to know that there were people out there and they were going to help.”

Powers and Guild know that not everyone has the previous relationship with MCCD that Hans had, but still highly encourage small business owners, who may be struggling for any reason, to know that help is out there.

“We can be helpful but we don’t have a lot of Debby’s standing in line for advice,” said Powers. “We can help people who want to be helped … Debby went to the bank herself. But we can’t help people who don’t want to be helped, or don’t want to do anything.” 

Powers and Guild left off with some sage advice, encouraging small business owners like Hans to, “keep on keeping on, stay positive and realize that change may not always be a bad thing.” 

“We suspect that a lot of people are shell-shocked right now and they don’t know what to do,” noted Guild.

“Be open minded. Don’t be afraid to learn new approaches to operating in this new environment,” Powers stressed, commenting wisely, “It’s not how you’re hit, but how you get up that matters.”

Editor’s Note: If you and/or your business are having any type of problem with which you would welcome some independent, objective advice free of charge, visit mentoringcorps.org for more information amd/or contact one of the following MCCD Board Members: BJ Bernblum at Bbernblum@sbcglobal.net, Gerry Guild at gguild@comcast.net or Dennis Powers at dennispowers@snet.net.

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Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education Passes $34.7 Million Budget Unanimously, Total Represents Largest “Negative Increase” Since 1973

Screen shot of Wednesday evening’s virtual Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Board of Education meeting at which the 2020-21 budget was passed.

LYME/OLD LYME — The Lyme-Old Lyme (LOL) Board of Education (BOE) unanimously passed the proposed 2020-21 Regional District #18 budget of $34,711,631 during a virtual meeting Wednesday night.

After a reevaluation of savings from the current year, the 2020-21 budget now shows a decrease of $373,127 (1.06 percent) over the current (2019-2o) budget according to Ian Neviaser, Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Superintendent. There was a lively discussion among board members and the superintendent as to how to describe this decrease correctly, which BOE Chair Diane Linderman ended up declaring was, the biggest “negative increase” in the budget since 1973, when the regional district was formed.

Neviaser noted that a significant savings in the budget (5.5 percent) are due to a decrease in the need for special education programs for students as a handful of special needs students recently left the district. 

“Our special education providers are currently doing an excellent job. The unknown factor in special education is always needs and new students,” said Neviaser. “This could wildly swing the other way tomorrow depending on enrollment.”

Neviaser also addressed some recent news articles, which discussed the school district’s recent savings, saying that, although some expenses have been saved due to COVID-19, that does not explain the whole picture. “Some of the savings that we’ve incurred have to do with the closure; for example we are not hiring substitutes right now,” said Neviaser. “As we’ve been saying throughout the entire year, the majority of our savings have come from special education.” 

Due to the size of this year’s surplus, the project to resurface the six tennis courts on the main campus, which had been spaced over two years, will now be completed in the current financial year. Similarly, an additional project was also approved for waterproofing ($16,750.00) the exterior of the middle school’s split face cement blocks, which again had been included in the 2020-21 budget, but will now be moved into the current year.

Board member Rick Goulding, who chairs the Facilities Committee, mentioned there is a possibility that refinishing the high school gym floor might also be transferred into the current year’s budget. If it is decided to pursue that plan, he said that request will be made at the June BOE meeting.

Neviaser referenced the fact that the Gov. Lamont had recently declared that schools would remain closed for the remainder of the year.  He stressed that he has been working closely with the Connecticut COVID-19 Reopening Task Force to maneuver the next steps in opening up school districts in a safe manner, however a timeline is still very broad at this point.

“We will look to them for some input. Knowing the way the state functions, they will provide general guidance and because every district is different, we will make our own internal adaptations based on that guidance,” said Neviaser. 

Although a referendum in Lyme and Old Lyme is normally required in order to pass the school’s budget, this was not needed this year due to the Governor’s Executive Order 7I, which states that town and school districts were not required to vote on budgets by “any in-person budget adoption requirements.” 

Neviaser noted that both towns would benefit significantly from the decreased LOL Schools’ budget when they finalized their town budgets in the upcoming weeks. He said Old Lyme will pay the school district exactly the same amount as in the 2019-20 budget and Lyme will pay 3 percent less than this year. The amounts the towns pay respectively of the total budget are determined by the relative percentages of students from each town, which are usually in a roughly 80:20 ratio with Old Lyme paying 80 percent of the budget. The numbers for the 2020-21 year saw Old Lyme increase its percentage of students while Lyme’s fell correspondingly.

Neviaser took a moment during the meeting to recognize Educator Appreciation Week, and share his appreciation for the efforts of all of the LOL faculty and staff during this unprecedented time.

“There is no single road map to make this work, it’s a constant adjustment and adaptation to whatever students need,” said Neviaser. “I think I speak for the full board that we greatly appreciate what they’re doing and how hard they’re working.”

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