After being closed for months due to COVID-19 and only having virtual offerings, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum is now permitted to have visitors in a limited capacity.
The museum opened Feb. 19, allowing a maximum of 10 visitors with a group size limit of five. Visitors will have to abide by a one-way flow of traffic, walking in one door and out the other. Hand sanitizer is available, and all interactive elements have been removed. Additionally, all visitors must wear a mask.
The research library is closed to the public. BIHM is open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“We are so excited that our doors are open again and look forward to sharing Bainbridge history with the public through our exhibits once again,” BIHM executive director Brianna Kosowitz said.
The Bainbridge Island Museum of Art also reopened.
Kosowitz said the museum is taking a “cautious approach” to reopening since volunteers ages 65 and older are not invited back yet for health and safety reasons. “We don’t know who’s been vaccinated, and we want to keep everyone safe and healthy,” she said.
She added: “For us, we’re in a bit of an unusual situation because we have a really small staff. We want to make sure we’re not biting more off than we can chew.”
BIHM opened with a new exhibit, Vanishing Bainbridge, in a collaboration with island photographer Joel Sackett. The exhibit explores Bainbridge history composed mostly of older homes that are still in use, repurposed or in disrepair. All of the photographs come with stories of island lives. The exhibit will run through Sept. 12.
The museum’s new lobby offers cultural materials collected during the pandemic. The installation highlights some creative ways islanders responded to the COVID crisis.
“It’s history that’s happening right now, and we’re all living it,” Kosowitz said. “It’s a great example of how history isn’t always in the past. Part of our job and our mission is to collect that and preserve for future generations right now. What we’re trying to do with the inspiration is showcase the innovation and creativity of islanders and how people here came together and responded in unique ways to the pandemic.”
During the museum’s closure, which was first during the spring of 2020 and then again at the end of the year, Kosowitz said staff and volunteers looked at the challenging time as an “opportunity to explore.”
“At first, there was a big effort to get ourselves the infrastructure that we needed to work remotely,” she said. “We used that to try and innovate and create new digital content.”
Kosowitz said the museum incorporated three new components — move all public programs online and launch the Collection Finds and Curious Curator series.
For public programs, the lecture series typically held once a month at the library, was put on Zoom, along with other programs BIHM has with the BI Senior Community Center. They are going to host two or three free public programs monthly via Zoom.
“It was great because a lot of islanders who might not have attended in person started to engage in our programs virtually,” Kosowitz said. “In a way, we can kind of cast a wider net. For the most part, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with that.”
The Collection Finds series consists of staff trying to find items from the museum’s collection through email, social media, and website in efforts to keep people connected while distant from each other. Kosowitz mentioned one of the finds was a photo of a Bainbridge woman during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, stating “some of those were very neat because we were able to find things in our collections that informed what we’re all living through.”
The Curious Curator are videos of five to eight minutes that show the museum’s curator, Merilee Mostov, traveling around Bainbridge.
“Our curator’s been going on the island and exploring different pockets of Bainbridge history and really just asking questions to people who know more about it than even we do,” Kosowitz said.
With much of the museum’s fundraising being conducted through in-person events, not having those opportunities this year was “really scary” for Kosowitz and her staff. To combat that, BIHM held a virtual five-day fundraiser, which exceeded their goal.
“The response from the community was amazing,” she said.
Kosowitz said the community “surrounds the nonprofit sector” with support.
“The fabric of the community is so tight-knit,” she said. “We’ve all felt that our donors, our members, and the community at large have really rallied around our missions. They’ve made sure it’s not forgotten in the midst of everything else.”