Brattleboro Museum & Art Center gets creative about art education during coronavirus pandemic

BRATTLEBORO — At a time when museums across the country are cutting education staff and reducing programs, the one-person education department at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) has spent the past few months supporting area students, teachers, and the wider community, including frontline health-care workers and people experiencing homelessness.

BMAC Education Curator Linda Whelihan pivoted from classroom and museum visits to provide outreach efforts, hand-deliver supplies, and offer art online.

Whelihan moved on from her position at BMAC at the end of the spring semester, but the Museum's commitment to education and outreach continues.

“When schools first closed, we donated the art kits that we've been using with our ArtExpress program to Hinsdale Elementary and other area schools,” Whelihan said in a news release. “The kits in Brattleboro were dispersed through the lunch delivery program.”

Both Hinsdale and Brattleboro received around 90 kits, she said.

“I also packed up little crafty kits for the families at Windham Elementary early on in the stay-at-home period,” she added.

Reallocating unused bus funding earmarked for spring school visits, Whelihan went on to distribute additional art materials to the 160 families of students at the Green Street School.

She described how she and Green Street School art teacher Rachel Mangean delivered the art kits, with one of them driving and the other “jogging up to doorsteps” to make deliveries.

“After three long days, each kiddo from Green Street had their kit, and it felt darn good to know that we were able to spread the art love into these families' homes in such a trying time,” Mangean said.

Inspired by two current exhibits about homelessness presented in partnership with Groundworks Collaborative, a group of BMAC staff members and friends recently prepared two meals for Groundworks clients. The Museum paired one of those meals with a delivery of art supplies.

While its galleries were shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, BMAC boosted its online offerings, including “BMACreate!,” Whelihan's biweekly series of art projects.

She has also guided readers in making nature journals, portraits of essential workers, three-dimensional spheres like the ones by John Gibson that are on view in the Museum's outside windows, and mail art in the style of Brattleboro's own Stuart Copans.

BMAC's outreach has also extended to the frontline health-care workers at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (BMH). In May, Wheilhan delivered 50 hand-stamped lavender sachets and thank-you cards to BMH Director of Development and Marketing Gina Pattison for distribution to hospital staff.