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.
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.