Local Organizations and COVID-19: The Glass House

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The Glass House. Photo courtesy of Christa Carr

For today’s Q&A with a local business or organization, we talked to Greg Sages, executive director of The Glass House, which has its Visitors Center on Elm Street. In past years, the 49-acre Ponus Ridge site laid out with Philip Johnson-designed buildings has opened May 1, and this year the organization won approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission to open April 16. With the restrictions in place due to coronavirus disease, The Glass House has been unable to open and, like other qualified organizations and businesses, is looking toward Gov. Ned Lamont’s planned May 20 date.

Here’s our exchange.

New Canaanite: How are you operating now and what is your plan?

Greg Sages: So the offices are shut down. We are a ‘non-essential business’ as defined by the governor. There is nobody in the office. Everybody is home. Our primary focus is generating online content to meet the needs of our audience as well as to keep us in the front of their minds. So a lot of effort is expended on that. The other main subject we are spending time on is trying to anticipate when we will be allowed to reopen. How will that look? We draw from around the world as well as around the country, and if they flip the switch tomorrow and said that we could open, the visitors will either not want or not be able to come in the volume they have in the past. So it’s likely that the audience that we serve will be more the tristate area. The challenge we face is: How to get people to the site while achieving the appropriate social distancing?

So what is allowable under your current zoning permit?

Under our current zoning permit, we are to bus all visitors from the downtown Visitors Center to the site. But our bus is small enough that we can’t achieve social distancing and have more than just a couple of people on the bus.

So what are you doing to get the information you need in order to figure out what it will look like when you reopen?

We are following of course the governor’s guidance and we are in discussions with various other museums and institutions of similar background to see how they are handling that. 

What is the plan now for the Glass House annual Summer Party, and generally speaking, what is your financial outlook given that you typically are open by now?

The combination of not being able to run tours and having to push our annual fundraiser out of our fiscal year, which ends June 30, means that about 30% of our annual revenue will not be obtained. 

Which has what effect on the organization in terms of staff and or building maintenance or grounds work?

The grounds need to be maintained. That is part of proper stewardship. We have had to eliminate any discretionary spending, including travel and similar types of spending. Since there isn’t an audience, we have had to postpone installations and exhibitions. And as to staffing, we have not been able to hire back our seasonal staff, and at this point our permanent staff is in tact, but we are under tremendous pressure.

So you are in the midst of figuring all of this out, and part of figuring it out is waiting to hear answers to a number of open questions.

That’s correct. There is so much uncertainty. You mentioned our annual fundraiser. Our current thinking is that we will push it to August 15th assuming we can overcome social distancing issues and be allowed to open under the governor’s guidelines, which may still significantly hamper the number of people at the site, even though it’s open and we have 49 acres. 

Just to make it clear to our readers, the Glass House is a National Trust for Historical Preservation site. however, it is a largely self-sustaining operation that receives only modest funding from that organization or through that designation. correct?

We receive small amounts of funding, specifically for programing and some support services for which we do not pay, but largely we are self-sufficient. 

Great what is your best-case scenario at this point in your mind, and what is your absolute catastrophe?

The best case is that we will open in accordance with the governor’s guidelines on May 20th. I still expect visitation to be somewhat less than it had been before COVID-19. We are looking forward to the support of the local and state community in terms of donations, visitations and purchases from our Design Store. The worst case is that we will not be able to allow people in our buildings for some period of time.

What is your message to the local community and what is your message to the national and international communities that you referenced?

We have maintained the site throughout the impact of this COVID virus. We look forward to reopening, to welcome people from the local area as well as the nation and internationally. And we understand that restrictions and people’s concerns about travel will be there for some time to come and we are decided to making visitation safe for our visitors as well as our employees. 

One thought on “Local Organizations and COVID-19: The Glass House

  1. The Glass House is just one of the things that makes our town special. We first visited many years ago and it is hard to overstate the importance of this house to the history of New Canaan and the Modern architecture movement. This museum is definitely worth supporting through a purchase from their gift shop (some really unique and interesting items) or a donation, which I believe, is currently being dollar for dollar matched by a generous contributor.

    We are all looking forward to visiting again when you reopen.

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