Arnold Arboretum has been a place for Bostonians to find refuge from crowded city life for nearly 150 years, and during the pandemic it offered safe respite to waves of visitors grown weary of the isolation of home.
In fact, an estimated 2-3 million people visited the Arboretum just since the end of March, according to officials. While many outdoor spaces temporarily closed due to coronavirus, this outdoor museum of trees and Frederick Law Olmsted-designed landscape remained open to the public. In addition to the rise in in-person guests, the Arboretum has also drawn a larger audience for its remote programming.
Arboretum Director William “Ned” Friedman, who also serves at the Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, worked with colleagues at the Harvard T.H. Chan School for Public Health early on in the pandemic to maintain proper protocol, like mask wearing and social distancing, to ensure the safety of staff and visitors alike.
“The Arboretum is one of the very few botanical gardens that has remained open throughout the pandemic,” Friedman said. “People are so cooped up. You don’t have anywhere you really can go and feel totally safe and relaxed. Interestingly, these venerable old institutions like the Arboretum that the public often takes for granted turned out to be the one place where you could get a sense of renewal in troubled times.”
“Right now, we’re working to analyze demographic data to help us understand the different audiences who come through our 13 different gates” Friedman said. “We want to understand where people are coming from and make sure we are directing our attention and staff to developing programming that ensures that everyone feels truly welcome.”