Mission and vision going nowhere? Try collaboration.

A good mission is difficult to plan.  Staff, community, and board members are all involved in reevaluating a museum’s direction, but if every institution has its own unique set of circumstances, is there one good way to change a mission?

To start, the American Association (now Alliance) of Museums provides a good set of guidelines in National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums, their 2008 report on museum values, ethics, and direction.  Look here for help with infrastructure and decision-making; AAM stresses that planning, implementation, and evaluation are all crucial for every process in the museum.  However, even with these standards, we are learning quickly that the best museum transformations do not always stick to the book, but arise from their own creative solutions.

I found just that when I spoke with Robert Kret, Director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM.  In his nine years at the Hunter Art Museum in Chattanooga, TN, he was able to “bring the Hunter off the hill,” and make it a vibrant community center.  His secret: collaboration.  With the Tennessee Aquarium and Creative Discovery Museum he and an enthusiastic Board were able to bring the city community together to fund the Bluff Arts District, where new and younger visitors contribute to what they feel is good art and good programming for their city.

Robert hopes to use similar public programs at the O’Keeffe, but as we all know, each community is different, and can feel disenfranchised when the majority of visitors are international tourists.  Can museums survive as a destination, or will donors ultimately fund a community center over a tourism hub?  Robert and I both agree that not only is a visitor focus ethical, but more sustainable.  With singular interests out of the way, collaboration among staff and with other institutions makes a lasting, effective, and I daresay more attractive nonprofit mission.

–Patrick Dickerson

Postscript: Robert also shared with me that Bill Clinton was just talking about cooperation between institutions on Thursday’s The Daily Show, and I think it’s an extremely relevant way of thinking. That said, what do you think?



American Association of Museums. National Standards and Best Practices for U.S. Museums. Washington, DC: American Association of Museums, 2008.

“Bill Clinton, Part 2.” The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. September 20, 2012.

Interview with Robert Kret, Director of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. September 21, 2012.



About pdickerson

Patrick is a student at the Cooperstown Graduate Program, Class of 2014. He is excited to engage with others in the museum field and learn more about what can be done to revolutionize how we think about history.
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5 Responses to Mission and vision going nowhere? Try collaboration.

  1. lizcongdon says:

    Your discussion of museums as centers for both international and community visitors is highly interesting. I gather from your post that the Georgia O’Keefe Museum has a high percentage of international visitors, and this made me remember something we discussed in our Intro to Museums class recently. Here in Cooperstown, the highly famous Baseball Hall of Fame attracts a mammoth crowd of visitors from around the country but not so many locals. To interact more with the community, they have been hosting different events such as movie nights for the nearby residents during the winter months.

    I was curious what Kret’s staff was doing in this manner, and how their mission reflects his desire to integrate with the community more. Although I did not find their mission listed on the website (interesting, considering how the AAM National Standards stresses the importance of a purposeful and well broadcasted mission), I did find a myriad of events that would engage the local community (http://www.okeeffemuseumevents.org/). I was impressed by their jam-packed events calendar including things like oil painting classes and even a public program on the local fracking monster. The majority of these events are free which certainly will help to attract and involve the nearby public and therefore make this museum more sustainable. Lets hope more museums continue to value their communities and put that focus at the core of their missions!

  2. mbalexander says:

    This is a fascinating discussion about the role museums play in the community; at the heart of it is the idea of being a good neighbor. Drawing in tourists can be a boon for a community bringing much needed commerce to an area, but I see the draw back if that influx of visitors disrupts local life to a point that it begins to rub people the wrong way. I agree it is therefore necessary for any museum to give back to its community and be a good neighbor. I enjoyed the ways museums were giving back in the aforementioned posts and encouraging the concept of being a tourist in your own town.

    I imagine these community involved programs might be difficult to “sell” to some directors and boards that might be blinded by the national fame and recognition, and do not see the cost to the community. I wonder if it would be advantageous to survey the community that is not coming to the museum and enumerate their grievances and desires when it comes to the role the museum plays. By bringing this data to the board they might be more willing to act and make adjustment. I wonder what the role survey can play in making decisions about large issues such as this one.

    • kwoodling says:

      Mary, I appreciate what you said about museums and their relationship to tourism. This aspect should not be ignored; however, tourists come and go. The real audience is the surrounding community- those are the ones that museums need to be sure that they are serving on a continuous basis. I think that this focus should be discussed within the mission

    • The discussion of community members vs. tourists is an important one. I worked at a museum that struggled with this constantly. We were very much a community center with a significant number of repeat visitors. But when reporting our visitation to the county for funding, we didn’t even include repeat visitation statistics because the county was only interested in funding an institution that promoted and generated tourism. I think making our community advocates of our organizations is essential to promoting sustainability. Creating partnerships can do this and following a community oriented mission. Asking the public what they want helps as many of these other posts discuss.

  3. Too often we see other museums and cultural institutions in the community as competitors rather than collaborators. As resources diminish creative collaborations may be one of the keys to sustainability.

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