Mary Grace von Thron, Campus Carrier deputy news editor

Senior Sarah Baker (right) works with freshman Emma Servaes (left) at the Oak Hill Museum. Due to COVID-19, the museum had to change the way tours are given so that guests and tour guides follow COVID-19 guidelines. Some of these changes include tours of just six guests, the requirement of all guests and staff to wear masks and tickets must be purchased online before visiting. Rette Solomon | Campus Carrier

The Oak Hill and Martha Berry Museum has undergone many changes to their museum tours and daily operations to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Oak Hill shut down operations completely last March in an effort to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. After much deliberation and many conversations, Oak Hill reopened in June, with many changes made to their policies and procedures. 

“We’ve definitely had to change a lot of our protocols,” Oak Hill visitors services assistant, Emily Hadden, junior said. “We take temperatures of everyone that comes into the museum and ask that everyone wears a mask.”

Prior to reopening, the staff at Oak Hill measured how many people could fit in the museum with social distance guidelines in place. They also limited the number of people per tour to six.

In addition to this, Oak Hill also started selling tickets for museum tours online. Previously tickets for a tour of Oak Hill were only able to be purchased in person at the front desk of Oak Hill. 

Rachel McLucas, director and curator of Oak Hill, said this change has helped improved operations at Oak Hill and is something they plan to continue to do long after the need for social distancing isn’t necessary.

Prior to the pandemic, tour guides would drive visitors from the museum to the Oak Hill home. Now, tour guides lead visitors to the home by having them follow in a car. Doing so limits tour guide’s exposure to visitors. It also allows visitors to have more autonomy and freedom, something that many people feel is positive.

“Our staff takes up either one of our vehicles and then guests follow them up,” McLucas said. It allows a sense of autonomy and freedom which I think is a really important mental aspect right now for people.” 

Many other changes have been made at Oak Hill in order to provide visitors a sense of autonomy and freedom while still keeping social distance guidelines in place. Previously, the entire tour of Oak Hill was guided by a student worker. Now, only parts of the tour are guided, while other parts of the tour such as walking through the gardens and going into Aunt Martha’s cottage are self-guided.

“Part of the reason why we decided to make the gardens self -guided was to give the visitors the sense that they would have the ability to just kind of roam unencumbered,” McLucas said.

Visitors have reacted positively to these changes and the museum has received positive feedback.

“I think it’s been a success and it may be one of those things that pass the necessary restrictions might end up staying in place to some degree, because we’ve seen some positive feedback from those, those choices,” McLucas said.

Oak Hill has also adjusted their programming to better fit a different and closer audience. In years past, much of the focus has been on visitors that come outside of Berry. Now, the focus has shifted primarily to Berry students. Programs geared towards students such as the Berry Folklore Tour, offered last October, have been added to reach different interests.

Recently, Oak Hill opened a new temporary exhibit, “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces.” This exhibit explores the architectural achievements of Rafael Guastavino Moreno and his son Rafael Guastavino Exposito during the late 19th and 20th centuries.

This travelling exhibit was originally was slated to open last October at Oak Hill and was at first expected to be delivered to the museum from North Carolina. However, the opening date of the exhibit was postponed.

To make a reservation for a tour of the Oak Hill and Martha Berry museum, students can go to https//berry.edu/oakhill, click on “Plan your Visit,” and click on “reservations.”

Read more about “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces” at “Oak Hill exhibit links Berry to famous designer” on VikingFusion.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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