After reading some literature about the importance of mission statements for museums, I got the impression that if a museum isn’t working well, its mission might have something to do with it. Many of the mission statements of old were long, rambling things, both very specific and hopelessly generic at the same time. People are right to recommend taking a look at the mission every five years or so, not only to use it as the foundation for strategic planning but to determine whether it should be tweaked, or possibly rewritten altogether. Your museum’s audience may have shifted since the 1930s, technology may have opened up new possibilities, or potential donors may have complained about ambiguity or antiquated notions.
However, during an interview with Dante Centauri, who has worked at many museums during his career, I received a caution: “You don’t want to change it too cavalierly.” One should never lose sight of the fact that the mission statement is the foundation of a museum’s entire operation. Not only does it tell others what your organization is and does, it guides the decisions of directors, boards, and individual employees. If your collections, programs, or facilities no longer match up with the mission, it may be that the mission needs to be updated, but it may also mean that too few were using it as a reference to guide their actions. If that’s the problem, changing the mission is only a temporary fix – the real solution is to take the mission seriously, throughout the organization.
Many museums are in the process of rethinking their mission. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to do so. However, before you alter the DNA of your organization, make sure the change is necessary and beneficial. Careful thought now can save you a great deal of confusion later on.
This post was written by Chelsea Robertson using the following sources:
–Interview with Dante Centauri, Director of Creative Productions at the Great Lakes Science Center, September 22, 2011
—National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums, from the American Association of Museums, 2008
—Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook, from the International Council of Museums, 2004
—The Importance of Mission in Guiding Museum Practice, edited by Joan Baldwin and Anne Ackerson, 2003