Just two days shy of a full year from when the Westcott House first had to close its doors in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Springfield cultural icon will once again be opening for public tours starting this Saturday, March 13.
Though the pandemic caused the physical doors of the one-time residence of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to be closed for long stretches through the past year, it also provided an outlet to open new, broader reaching doors.
“We’ve always focused so much on hands-on activities – and I can’t wait to go back to those – but the idea that this house can be a source of joy for people coast-to-coast is really validating and a testament to Frank Lloyd Wright, because it is a name that resonates with so many people,” says Marta Wojcik, executive director and curator at the Westcott House.
Wojcik discussed how so many things worldwide – including the Westcott House – that would typically be out of reach for many people because of financial or geographical obstacles became accessible virtually throughout the past year.
“I feel like it’s so much more likely people will try to make it in person to those places someday because of the exposure they’ve had during the last year,” she says, adding that the Westcott House has received encouraging and enthusiastic messages of support and appreciation from far and wide praising its online presence through the past 12 months.
That presence is something Wojcik says she plans to maintain even as in-person tours pick back up and as COVID restrictions eventually ease.
“Now the big challenge is to keep up with the demands of in-person visits and also continue to offer opportunities online,” she says, adding that keeping these opportunities available helps increase the number of donors and Westcott House members.
Some examples of the continued virtual outreach include online tours with unique Zoom login information guests can register for through the website and an upcoming online lecture series.
Another online win for the Westcott House was a live broadcast event last June, in which Wojcik collaborated with the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, Wright sties nationwide, and PechaKucha Headquarters in Tokyo.
While the Westcott House had hosted a variety of in-person PechaKucha (meaning “chit chat” in Japanese) nights prior to the pandemic, this was the first online, collaborative effort of it’s kind.
With presenters from across the country and around the globe, Wojcik says more than 2000 people attended the online PechaKucha event and joined in the online discussion. In case you missed it, you can still catch the replay here.
“We didn’t expect there to be so much interest, but then, once you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense,” she says. “It was really encouraging, so we’re actually planning another PechaKucha this June to do it again. It really brought together the Frank Lloyd Wright sites across the country.”
Wojcik says the next collaborative online PechaKucha is slated for June 8 again, in celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday.
“I think in the face of crisis, people realize that we are really stronger together. Sometimes we can forget that in our routine days. We can get more into a competitive mode,” she says. “But the circumstances created such an opportunity – it was the silver lining of all this – that we had no agenda other than to lift each other up. And clearly it works much better for all of us to share programming and cross promote. It only helps each of our customers to learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright.”
On-site, Wojcik says staff and volunteers have been busy prepping the house for the reboot of tours this weekend.
Tours are led by volunteers from across the state who are trained about architectural facts and unique details about the Westcott House. They learn to engage guests on the one-and-a-half-hour-long tour and learn to feel comfortable teaching about the ins and out of the house.
“It makes our operations possible because we could not possibly afford paid staff for tours,” Wojcik says.
While the Westcott House is always open to people interested in becoming volunteers, Wojcik says she’s so thankful for the volunteers who have been around since the house first opened for tours 15 years ago.
“(The volunteers) enjoy being ambassadors for our region and are naturally curious people who do a lot in Springfield and other local communities and can recommend other places people should go, like the Hartman Rock Garden or the Springfield Museum of Art,” Wojcik says, adding that the volunteers also frequently encourage visitors to enjoy more of the city while they’re here by visiting these places or grabbing a bite to eat Downtown. “They really are being advocates for the community.”
The Westcott House was able to open for some tours between June and November 2020, but opted to close again through the winter as the number of local COVID-19 cases climbed. But, with cases decreasing and vaccine distribution increasing, Wojcik says she’s hopeful tours will be open for good starting Saturday.
COVID safety protocols, including mask wearing and distancing, will remain in place for now, she says, and those details as well as ticket options can all be found on the Westcott House website.
Anyone interested in becoming a Westcott House volunteer can contact Wojcik by email at [email protected] for more information