by Greenwich Sentinel | By Anne W. Semmes
Heidi Brake Smith is much invested in her community of Greenwich. She’s brought her personal interest in public spaces – “how they function, how people react in public spaces,” to the Bruce Museum. She had a vision for developing downtown Greenwich into a cultural center in her work with the Greenwich Center for the Arts, thus was drawn to realizing “the transformative project” of the New Bruce. She Co-Chairs the Campaign for the New Bruce Committee, along with fellow Trustee John Ippolito and Museum Council Co-Chair Susan Mahoney.
“Museums have the ability to bring people together,” Smith says, “of all ages, all backgrounds, all interests into a public space that brings joy, or understanding of the science, or exploration, or artistic endeavors under one roof. The New Bruce will make a very big difference to downtown Greenwich as a whole, and also the region.”
“This new Museum ties to the existing Bruce Park and the downtown area coming off of Steamboat Road. People who are on lower Greenwich Avenue will realize that the Bruce is very close. It’s a visual link on what is a continuous street that has been bifurcated by the railroad and the highway that feels like two sections. The New Bruce has this ability of joining those areas.”
Smith shows a downtown schematic of how the Bruce sits in the center of a circle of surrounding streets. What the New Bruce brings, she says, “is that it’s walkable. It’s reachable. The New Bruce building project re-orients the entrance toward Bruce Park and creates a much more accessible Museum.
“Visitors will enter straight into the Museum’s public spaces from this new, ‘park level.’ They can then either take the elevator or the stairs to the galleries, which will open up a lot of opportunities for people who struggle in the physical format of the Museum today. From a functionality point of view, this takes the Museum to where it should be as a public institution.”
Wherever Smith travels, she visits public spaces. “They are the front door to a community,” she says. “You begin to understand what people are interested in in those communities, what they value.” What amazed her on a recent museum visit in her travels was seeing “multi-generations on a Saturday morning getting excited about an exhibition. Most people play sports on a Saturday morning, and it was teeming with little kids in strollers and parents. Those kids want to go every week. And when you see that kind of excitement, you’re like – those are special places.”
“A museum fits lots of people at different points in time,” says Smith. Her two grown children, she shares, had much benefited from the Bruce. “There are times in your life that you’re very active in your local community, and times when your kids are little and you go to Tod’s Point. Then they’re older, and you’re at the sports field.” But as she viewed recently at the Bruce, “on a super-hot, or rainy day – guess what? They’re at the Bruce!”
Smith believes, “As a community member it is important to support our greatest assets. We have seen this time and time again that Greenwich stands on its beach, Tod’s Point, on the Byram Park and Pool, the Greenwich Hospital. When you have those key institutions that are strong, that are resilient, that keep up with state-of-the-art technology, that are ready for the next 50 to 100 years in their programming, those institutions, those intangibles, benefit everybody. It’s a sense of pride for someone to say, ‘I live in Greenwich,’ and, someone else says, ‘Oh, I hear you have a really beautiful Museum!’”