Beanery renovations bring more students to Benton Museum

Visitor services manager Samantha Smith said the new Beanery and a new student membership option for the museum has increased daily student visits exponentially. (Daily Campus/Zhelun Lang)

The Beanery café in The Benton Museum of Art is buzzing with conversation, coffee and art. Students say this is their favorite place to study, and weekly open mic nights invite performances by student musicians, comedians and poets. Upstairs, a silent contrast fills galleries where visitors can take in the art.  

Since it’s opening, many more students are visiting the museum, Samantha Smith, The Benton’s visitor services manager said, especially with a new student membership program designed to keep students engaged at the Benton.

“When the Beanery was closed, our numbers definitely went down, but they are much higher than even before that,” Smith said, although the museum declined to provide visitor numbers.  

An average of 60 people have visited the museum daily this semester, Smith said. But the number was much lower before the renovated café and student membership program started.

The Benton ran the Beanery before dining services began renovations in fall of 2014. The renovations closed the majority of the first floor of the building for over a year until the new Beanery was opened April 15, 2015 by dining services.

“When you walk in, you’re immediately aware that you’re walking into a museum,” the Benton’s executive director Nancy Stula said. The space is more inviting, she said, because the visitor desk was moved and remodeled and sculptures were placed in the adjacent space.

The new membership program, Stula said, is also increasing student involvement in the museum. The program gives students a 10 percent discount on the Benton’s store merchandise, a free gift and free art stickers in exchange for an email address and student ID. Members receive notice by email about events happening at the Benton and free admission to museums in the College and University Art Museums Reciprocal program.

“Students seem really enthusiastic about getting a membership,” Stula said. “My focus is on getting more students to the museum and hoping to do that through student memberships so we can alert students on what’s happening.”

There are four stickers that are given out to members, each based on a work of art featured in four exhibits in the museum. Each sticker release is announced by email to members.

Offering stickers to increase membership, Stula said, was an idea that came out of a student focus group during the summer, and it was a good idea because so many students like to decorate their laptops with stickers.  

While the membership program is focused on engaging students in the museum, the café is a much bigger draw for students who say they regularly study and meet in there because of the atmosphere.

"When you're here, you forget that you're in a school,” Corbelt Ripley, fifth semester history major, said. "Out of all the cafe's, this actually feels like a cafe."

Even though Ripley spends a lot of time in the Beanery, she said she has never visited the galleries upstairs.

Others say the weekly open mic nights brought them to the Benton.

“It's really cool because you get to see so much talent,” Katie Pelkey, third-semester English and Italian major said. “"If you have never been to an open mic, you would never know that the kid sitting next to you in class might be really good at playing guitar."

With the opening of the café, students also have a new place to study.

"The library is kind of overwhelming, but here, it's just relaxed,” Kristen Lemieux, a first-semester ACES major said. "This is my favorite place to study."

Along with Smith and Stula, the Benton’s student employees also agree that visitor numbers have increased drastically.

"It's almost natural that we're getting more people upstairs,” Carleton Whaley, who works at the museum’s front desk, said. “You’d think that working here would make me not want to be in the same building, but the [Beanery’s] couches are so comfy."


Diler Haji is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and can be reached via email at diler.haji@uconn.edu.