Catching up with the ‘new’ Martha’s Vineyard Museum

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum at its new location. —Lexi Pline

The Times caught up with Katy Fuller, director of operations and business development at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, to see how things are going since the reopening in their new digs overlooking Vineyard Haven Harbor in March 2019.

What was your biggest day for visitors since you opened?

One might think our busiest day was a rainy day, but actually it was quite the opposite. Our busiest day was Tuesday, August 20. The Island was still bustling with people, the weather was perfect, and we hosted musicians Kate Taylor, Rose Guerin, and Jemima James in our courtyard that evening during our free Tuesday nights that Cronig’s Market and Cape Cod 5 sponsor. The Art Cliff food truck was packed with people, and guests brought their lawn chairs and sat out in the courtyard listening to the music. It was the perfect Vineyard day. At the end of the day, we said to the architects who designed the museum project for us, “We brought your architectural renderings everyone looked at for years on paper to life that day.”

How many visitors have you had since you reopened?

We’ve currently had over 24,000 visitors since mid-March. People ask us if we anticipated this type of attendance, and the honest answer is, we didn’t really know what to expect. The saying “If you build it, they will come” has certainly been true for us. We learn more about our visitors, their habits, and admission trends every day!

What’s been your most popular exhibit?

The “Benton’s Martha’s Vineyard” exhibit about renowned artist Thomas Hart Benton that we unveiled at our grand opening in June has by far been the most popular. The exhibit showed we could play in the museum big leagues, as we were loaned prized pieces of art from other institutions such as the New Britain Museum and from private collectors on the Island. It was the first comprehensive exhibit of Benton’s Vineyard works ever put on display. When it was time for the exhibit to end, visitors begged us to keep it up longer. It was a fabulous reaction to an exhibit we worked very hard on. 

What exhibits are coming up this winter?

We have a variety of exhibitions opening this off-season. “Northern Connections: Martha’s Vineyard and the Arctic” opens on Nov. 19, and will be up through Feb. 9. It explores Vineyarders’ experiences and examines the impact the Arctic had on both the Island community and the people and environment of the far North in the 19th and early 20th centuries. “Neighbors in the Deep: The North Atlantic Right Whale” will open on Jan. 14, 2020, and stay up through mid-June. Our curators are collaborating with Ken Wentworth and Liz Witham on this exhibit. Guest curator Dan Water’s exhibit “Face Value” will continue to be on display through the start of the new year, and we continue to swap out some of the life-size photographs in it from time to time. We’re working with Big Brothers Big Sisters on an exhibit to open in early March. There’s also a lot of planning happening for next summer, when we’re diving into the 80th anniversary of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, and the 45th anniversary of “Jaws.” Yes, the blockbuster exhibit we have been asked to do for years and never had the space to adequately tell the story is coming to MVM next summer.

What else is going on this winter?

The First Light Café will continue to operate this winter with Gina Stanley of Art Cliff Diner providing a lot of the tasty treats, along with a number of other Island food providers. Museum admission is not required to visit the café. School groups invade the galleries quite often, and we love hearing the students’ experiences as they dive into curriculum on a number of subjects. Our Tuesday free nights continue, thanks to Cronig’s Market and Cape Cod 5. Visit from 4 to 7 pm in the off-season for free on Tuesdays. MVM research librarian Bow Van Riper will be leading a course on Martha’s Vineyard history this February and March. We also have a variety of food programs we’re working on with Gina Stanley and a number of other Island chefs. Our website is the best place to check for all that’s going on, mvmuseum.org.