COVID-19 and the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association

Update: April 19, 2020

Dear Members and Supporters of the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association,

The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted every one of us, both from a personal as well as an economic perspective. Most of us know someone who has become seriously ill, is facing financial uncertainty, or has lost their job. It is heartbreaking. This outbreak has forced the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association to make a decision that would not seem possible even four short weeks ago.

Since the onset of the Pandemic, the MMA’s Staff and the Executive Committee of the MMA Board of Directors have been evaluating options as to how we might continue operations while ensuring the health and safety of our staff, interns, volunteers, visitors, and our Island community. Based on our analysis, we determined that we need to cancel our award-winning Discovery Camp program this summer. And although it is unlikely that we will be opening our facilities in June, we are hopeful that we will be able to open in some capacity, and offer some programming, as insights are gained and it is safe to do so. We have also cancelled our major summer fundraiser, the Stargazer Gala, that was scheduled for July 9. We are working on an alternative event to the Gala and will keep our Members and Supporters informed as plans are solidified.

The Basis for Our Decision:

I’d like to share with you the thoughts that have gone into this very difficult decision. The decision was based on several factors regarding how we prepare and train our interns, as well as how we operate our facilities and programs.

1) Unlike most organizations on Nantucket, we depend on over fifty college and high school interns, as well as volunteers, to staff our Discovery Camps, Aquarium, Natural Science Museum, Mitchell House, Vestal Street Observatory and Open Nights at Loines Observatory throughout the summer.

2) The interns typically arrive in mid to late May and go through an intensive training program for two to four weeks depending on their program area. As of this date, the Massachusetts Stay at Home Order is through May 4 and could be extended.

3) Most of our thirty or so exceptional and enthusiastic college interns require housing at the MMA. Although our housing is very comfortable by any standard, the interns must share rooms, bathrooms, and cooking facilities and we are seriously concerned about issues around virus transmission. The welfare of our interns and students, and our island community, is our primary concern and will not be compromised.

4) Without these interns and volunteers, we cannot operate at or near full capacity.

5) The Town of Nantucket will not be issuing any event permits until at least July 1 and that uncertainty makes it nearly impossible to schedule an event, such as our Stargazer Gala with all of its commitments and costly obligations.

Moving Forward:

Over the last month, we have found ways to virtually share content and experiences that you have come to know and look for from us, such as the Nantucket Science Festival which was held in a virtual form and which is still available online for people to participate in via at-home experiments and activities. Our various social media platforms are being updated regularly with activities, content, and science challenges. Our educators have been working with Nantucket teachers to provide STEM curriculum ideas and hands-on, at-home activities. And although the Pandemic significantly limits the MMA’s summer offerings, we remain optimistic that we will be able to offer limited programming later into the summer, perhaps even a few modified Discovery Camp programs. We are working on ways to continue our popular Science Speaker Series every Wednesday night whether it be virtually or in person with social distance seating. We hope to offer limited capacity tours at the Mitchell House and are planning ways for you to continue to meet the animals, bird watch, and observe the night skies with us.

Our education programming will continue. Our research will continue. So please stay tuned.
Further, the MMA will be reaching out to Discovery Camp parents within a week with instructions and options regarding refunds.

So while our doors may be closed physically, our doors are still open virtually and we are hoping to widen that entry later this summer.


This decision is very difficult and will result in a significant reduction in our income, but we feel strongly that this is the right decision for the safety of our staff, interns, volunteers, visitors, and our Island community. We, like so many other non-profits and businesses on the island, realize this will be disappointing to people but we need to find ways to continue to protect all of us. The Maria Mitchell Association has been educating and inspiring learners of all ages for over 100 years. Now more than ever, we hope you will continue to support the MMA and all of the island organizations and businesses who make Nantucket so much of what it is. In the next few days, I will be in touch with specific ways you can help the MMA during this challenging time.

Please know that you are all on our mind. We will miss seeing you and your wonderful and curious children and grandchildren during the early summer, and yet we will remain hopeful that we will welcome you back to the MMA before the summer’s end. In the meantime, remember, creating that “spark,” that moment of discovery and excitement, will continue at the Maria Mitchell Association!

Be well and safe,



Update: March 19, 2020

The MMA would like to assure its member, visitors, collaborators, and the general public that we continue to monitor the situation on Nantucket, in our country, and the world.  We all appreciate the impact this is having on you, your families, friends, colleagues, and everyone.  To that end, the MMA has been closed since March 13.  We will not be running any programs, classes, Open Nights, or other programming.  We will reassess around May 4 and make further decisions based on what we are being told by the Town of Nantucket, the state and federal government, and the CDC.

Many of our staff can work from home and others have the ability to social distance while here – working in various buildings alone.  We want you to know that our work at the MMA still continues despite this COVID-19 outbreak.  Our research in the field and in the skies above continues.  Planning of summer classes and camps continues.  We continue to care for our animals that live with us year –round or that are over-wintering with us for various reasons.  We continue to be here for you even if it may be virtually or in planning for the future when this outbreak ends.

Please take a look at what we offer on our website.  The Science Festival scheduled for March 21 was cancelled but it lives on on our website with many science challenges your family can do at home.  Celebrate Women’s History Month and the Centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment by taking a look at the lesson plans related to Maria’s life using primary sources (all right on the webpage as various documents) for several age groups on the “For Students” page.  Read through Deputy Director and Mitchell House Curator’s blog, “Maria Mitchell’s Attic” to learn more about Maria, Nantucket, and the time in which Mitchell lived.  Connect to our biological collections and read up on the state of the harbor.  And learn more about the night skies by taking a listen to the MMA’s Director of Astronomy on current and past “Looking Skyward” on WCAI.

In closing: Be safe, adhere to strict social distancing guidelines established based on sound science, wash your hands many times per day, and hurry back to Nantucket when this crisis is fully over.  We are looking forward to seeing you once again.