Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park - continuing to grow during the great pause.
Our worlds were all turned upside down in February, 2020 when we began to hear news of the Coronavirus that was starting to spread across the world. Hoping that increasing our cleaning and sanitizing and asking staff and guests to wash their hands often would be enough to keep this unknown and unseen enemy at bay, we went about our normal routines of looking forward to the renewed energy that spring at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park brings. Little did we know that our immediate future involved being closed for the next 87 days.
During this time of Executive Orders and mass closures across the world, we retained a core group of staff members who worked both on-site and remotely caring for our living collection and keeping our grounds safe & functional. This core group was considered essential under the State of Michigan rules circulated in initial Executive Orders.
Spring is normally a busy time at Meijer Gardens. Butterflies emerge in the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory, a new sculpture exhibition opens in our indoor sculpture galleries and our horticulture team works tirelessly to plant and water the thousands of varieties of flowers and plants that guests encounter on their visit. Concerts are announced and tickets go on sale. Our Education team is busy with classes and preparing for camps, and our Hospitality team is overseeing meetings and events and weddings and life-celebrations. Our new and improved catering kitchen is abuzz with activity as our crew prepares beautiful and delicious food for hundreds of guests at a time.
For those few staff members that remained on-site in a limited capacity during the shutdown, it was eerily quiet. There were no guests filling our halls, no sounds of laughter coming from the Lena Meijer Children's Garden, no volunteers here to greet our guests or help our staff plant flowers. Many of us were forced to learn new vocabulary which included words like pivot, Teams and virtual.
As days stretched into weeks stretched into months, we remained connected with our volunteers, staff, members, donors and guests through tools that didn't exists when we first opened our doors in 1995. We are fortunate to live in a time when connecting with our audience is so easy, where meaningful interactions can happen despite being physically apart. Guests enjoyed the opportunity to livestream our Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibition for the first time ever, and we offered daily Virtual Visits that provided mission-related content that was newly created as well as pulled from our archives.
One of the events that was the hardest to do apart from our community was celebrating our 25th Anniversary as an organization on April 20, 2020. Meijer Gardens was created as a place for the community to gather and to share in beauty and be inspired. When Betsy Borre and the West Michigan Horticulture Society approached Fred & Lena Meijer with the seed of the idea that became the organization that we are today, the hope was that it would grow into a place that was enjoyed by all.
As time went on, we learned to adapt. We adapted to temporary changes in our entry and exit procedures. We adapted our language – “social distancing” became “physical distancing” – we are social beings and need to remain socially together while physically distanced. We long for the day when we can all be together again and look forward to continuing to welcome back our members, volunteers and guests in a safe manner.