One of the big ideas confirmed in Reimagining Historic House Museums is the significant role of a strong mission statement. They’ve been in active use in museums since the 1980s and yet, there are still plenty that are uninspiring, convoluted, or superficial slogans.
Because mission statements are so essential to the management of museums, I spend two classes of my museum management course at George Washington University discussing them using the AAM Standards along with articles by Willard Boyd, Stephen Weil, Peter Drucker, Philip Kennicott, and Sebastian Desmidt, and a chapter from Museums in Motion. Through several small group activities, the students develop a list of characteristics for strong mission statements and then test them against the mission statements for the eighteen museums they are using as case studies. Although these are graduate students with very little experience in museums, they do a terrific job identifying mission statements that can inform decisions and guide actions. For the museums they are studying this semester, these are ones with the strongest mission statements (in alphabetical order):
Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, Georgia.
The Atlanta History Center through its collections, facilities, programs, exhibitions, and publications preserves and interprets historical subjects pertaining to Atlanta and its environs and presents subjects of interest to Atlanta’s diverse audiences.
Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, Maryland.
The Calvert Marine Museum is a public, non-profit, educational, regionally oriented museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, research, and interpretation of the culture and natural history of Southern Maryland. We are dedicated to the presentation of our three themes: regional paleontology, estuarine life of the tidal Patuxent River and adjacent Chesapeake Bay, and maritime history of these waters. The museum is part of Calvert County Government.
Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, St. Michaels, Maryland.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is dedicated to preserving and exploring the history, environment, and culture of the entire Chesapeake Bay region, and making this resource available to all.
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana.
To inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history, and cultures of the American West and the Indigenous peoples of North America. The Eiteljorg Museum collects and preserves Western art and Native American art and cultural objects of the highest quality, and serves the public through engaging exhibitions, educational programs, cultural exchanges, and entertaining special events.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.
True to the ambitious vision of its founder and her spirit of creative risk-taking, the mission of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is: to bring to life and preserve the rich historic collection; to cultivate talent in the pursuit of knowledge and acts of creation in the arts and humanities; to support artists, landscape architects, musicians, scholars and students; and to engage local and global audiences in a sanctuary of beauty and the arts where deeply personal and communal adventures unfold.
Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.
The mission of the Peabody Essex Museum is to celebrate outstanding artistic and cultural creativity by collecting, stewarding and interpreting objects of art and culture in ways that increase knowledge, enrich the spirit, engage the mind and stimulate the senses. Through its exhibitions, programs, publications, media, and related activities, PEM strives to create experiences that transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world.
Keep in mind that some still need tweaking to make them clear, memorable, and distinctive (that’s my test) but they are among the best in the group the students examined. Every semester brings a different set of mission statements, and with it a different ranking. In the meantime, these might bring inspiration to your organization as you think about its purpose.