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Hartford Museums Should Work Together

Rick Green

June 23, 2009

So much is happening with Hartford museums, it was time to investigate.

My plan was to visit as many of the city's museums as I could in a day, by bike. Could it be that museums hold some key to reviving Hartford's fortunes?

Yes, we've got a new $165 million blockbuster science museum with a $16 admission fee, yet I found other free! art exhibits in parks and along sidewalks. It's great to see that the (still stuffy) Mark Twain House is back on sound financial footing. The Old State House, in danger of closing but with a spunky attitude, stands out.

But if these and other museums are part of the future, they've got to work together to make it easier to actually go to these impressive places.

Why can't Hartford have a special one- or two-day ticket for a single, special price? A visit to the crown jewels, the Twain House, the Wadsworth and the Connecticut Science Center, will cost you at least $40, more when parking and lunch are part of the bargain.

How about a deal for $30? The governor's endless promotion of "staycations" apparently hasn't reached Hartford's museums, where only the Twain House offers $2 off for Connecticut residents, Monday through Thursday only. How unacceptably lame.

My high-speed tour started early at the new (and free) Wallace Stevens Walk, which honors Hartford's strolling insurance-man poet. Stanzas of "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" are carved into granite blocks along a 2.4-mile route from The Hartford to the gruff bard's Westerly Terrace home.

I grabbed a coffee at Tisane and cycled to Real Art Ways' public installation in Pope Park of artist Satch Hoyt's labyrinth of clothesline and 4-by-4s. Weird, but a refreshing contrast to my next destination.

At the Twain House, where four of us waited for the doors to open, my $14 ticket got me pretty much the same tour I've had for years. A yearlong campaign has pulled the museum out of the red I still love stepping into Twain's billiard room where Huckleberry Finn was written but why not have an actor in character up there instead of a tour guide? It might help the "don't-you-dare-touch-anything" vibe.

I missed the next tour at the neighboring Stowe House (there's no single admission for these museum homes) and peddled to the Old State House, where for $6 Hannah Watson Hudson awaited.

There, the 18th-century Courant publisher was regaling visiting students with tales of how she "knew how much the news meant to the country" and kept the paper publishing during the Revolutionary War with government help, no less. Who knew?

"We want people to see this as a place where people can hang out," education director Sally Whipple said, telling me about comfy chairs, costumes that kids can try on and the actors who wander about, portraying famous Hartford figures like Hudson.

Ignoring museum fatigue, I turned to our new power duo the Wadsworth, a bargain at $10, and the sparkling science center. From the bike racks outside to the friendly guards to the "divine providence" of the Hudson River School, the Wadsworth has it going. I couldn't help but notice visitors with the yellow bracelets indicating they had just come from the science center.

At the science center no outdoor bike rack! marketing director Aaron Wartner told me about a "Disney-level of service." He talked about 15,000 visitors in the opening weeks and the "wow" factor of the Cesar Pelli building escalators, elevators, breathtaking views and fifth-graders everywhere you look, not to mention the hands-on science. The Mark Twain House this is not.

"We are trying to speak non-museum language," Wartner said. "This is another reason to come to Hartford."

Actually, it's one of more than half a dozen reasons to come to Hartford. Just imagine what could happen if all these museums worked together.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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