This week marks an anniversary none of us ever imagined. As the Covid-19 virus was circling on March 13, 2020, nearly everything shut down. At the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, we had just come off our most successful season. Exactly a year into our new home high above Vineyard Haven harbor, we anticipated a second season filled with impactful exhibitions, inspiring experiences, and fun and engaging programs fueled by increased earned income from a growing membership base, public and private events, and visitors to the museum. Instead, on that day, like museums across the country, we shut our doors.

There were so many questions: Could we afford to stay open knowing that roughly $1 million in projected revenue could no longer be earned? Could we contribute to a community in lock down? Could we continue to support staff through the pandemic? How could the museum maintain its relevance without visitors? The answers came in layers and, as it turned out, the last year has proven to be transformative for the museum, making us more deeply tied to our community and expanding in ways we may not have otherwise explored.

Immediately, the staff and board established priorities. We quickly realized we had an obligation and a unique ability to serve our Island and museum community, however locked down by the pandemic they may be. Equally strong was our obligation to remain a financially viable institution beyond 2020. We therefore revised our budget and set out to meet the needs of home-bound, isolated Islanders, parents suddenly home-schooling their children and seasonal residents and visitors longing for online content that brought the Vineyard into their living rooms. We began posting oral histories and collection objects online, uploaded past editions of the MV Quarterly on our website and launched a weekly newsletter. As a result, even while on-site attendance dropped precipitously, engagement with our online content exploded by over 600 per cent.

Additionally, we accelerated plans to enhance the visitor experience of our magnificent outdoor spaces, developing a self-guided visit of the campus that connected the present with the past and, more importantly, offered a safe option for our socially distanced existence. At the same time, we made plans to be ready to reopen when permitted to do so by local and state government. We conducted a thorough audit of our ventilation system, developed a timed-ticketing program, added special low occupancy hours for seniors and immunocompromised visitors, and reconfigured the flow of visitors through our many galleries.

Part of what made all of this possible was the early and reassuring support we received from many corners. In particular, support from the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation (formerly Permanent Endowment), the federal Payroll Protection Plan (ushered through with the support of Cape Cod 5 bank), and a board-funded Covid emergency fund, allowed us to weather the temporary shortfall in earned and event income. The combination of detailed internal planning and widespread generosity, I’m happy to report, allowed the museum to again welcome visitors to our indoor exhibits, increase the use of our outdoor campus, and end the year in a stable financial position.

In mid-March, we New Englanders don’t always believe summer is coming, but it is. And we are once again planning unique and inspiring experiences for this summer. Among many other planned exhibits and programs, we are excited to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Vineyard Gazette, to partner with the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head and the Chappaquiddick Wampanoags to better represent the Island’s indigenous history within our permanent exhibits, and to share the extraordinary life of the Rev. William Jackson, a Union Army officer, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and the Oak Bluffs town crier.

None of us would want to relive this past year. It has been stressful and filled with fear, but perhaps like many, we at the museum are both grateful and stronger as a result. The pandemic forced us to expand beyond a traditional museum and it deepened our commitment and capacity to capture visitors wherever they reside. Above all, we take heart in reaffirming our role as a nimble, fiscally responsible and community-centered organization that steps up in a time of crisis.

There are challenges ahead, to be sure, and we welcome all friends of the museum, new and old to help us continue to grow into our new home in Vineyard Haven and our newly planted Cooke House Gardens in Edgartown. But at this moment we are grateful to our members, donors, adventurous visitors and many Island organizations who sustained and encouraged us. As we prepare for summer, we raise our glasses to 2021 and we thank you for your continued support.

Cathy M. Weiss is board chairman for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.