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Mystic Seaport 2012 Winter Update
The following is a summary of a presentation that was given by Museum president Steve White to the staff and volunteers on February 22 at Mystic Seaport.
We opened our doors to the public visitor on February 16 to a phenomenal response. Our new Winter's Aweigh event tripled the attendance for that weekend over the past year, and the entire week of Liberty Days was up 150 percent! It was great to see the Museum alive and full of people after six weeks of behind-the-scenes work, but it is not like the Museum was shut down. Actually, it was quite the opposite.
This winter saw the beginning of a major initiative to address deferred maintenance of our physical plant. The closure permitted us to have contractors on the grounds for extended periods of time, which would not have been possible if we were open to visitors. Some of the major projects that were completed include:
- New roofs for the Rossie Mill warehouse, the Shipsmith, Cooperage and other buildings.
- A new dock for Sabino and structural repairs to Chubb's Wharf.
- Eight new boilers and 14 new oil tanks installed around campus, which will markedly improve our energy efficiency.
- Improved drainage in front of the Galley and VRC.
- Stillman 2nd floor and Schaefer Galleries prepped for new exhibits this spring.
- Numerous chimneys repaired.
- Campus-wide tree pruning.
- The VRC got a facelift with new paint, lights, and a deep cleaning.
- The Campbell and Howell classrooms in the Planetarium have been redone with new paint and floors. They look great!
This is not a complete list. A lot of work was accomplished in those six weeks. We were able to achieve those results because we sold several rental properties in 2011. These properties were assets not aligned with our mission or master plan and the funds from the sales were dedicated to be reinvested in our physical plant. Significantly, we were able to purchase one property that does have importance to our master plan.
We feel the winter maintenance campaign is just one example of our passionate focus on stewardship: stewardship of our collections, our assets, and our mission. It is important to remember that everything we do is aligned toward our primary goal: to utilize a comprehensive maritime collection that inspires an enduring connection to America's maritime heritage.
We expect to make a lot of progress towards that goal in 2012.
The Charles W. Morgan
Of course, the most ambitious and important project at Mystic Seaport is the restoration and 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan. The crew of talented and dedicated shipwrights in the Shipyard continue to make tremendous progress on the restoration. They have completed the interior framing and planking and on February 21, with some fanfare, installed the first exterior plank. This was a major milestone in the project and also marks an opportunity for visitors to get a better view of the ongoing work as much of what has been done so far was down in the hold. The project is on time and on budget as we march towards a July 21, 2013 launching.
To date, over $6 million has been raised for the Morgan project towards our goal of $10 million. We have 100 percent trustee participation and we are pleased to report that Mohegan Sun joined us to sponsor the successful Charles W. Morgan 70th Anniversary celebration last November. The week-long event featured a fireworks display, daily activities in downtown Mystic, and a special anniversary celebration on Nov. 5 that drew more than 4,700 visitors to the Museum.
We are actively seeking corporate sponsors for the project and two donors have generously given a $145,000 matching challenge grant that runs through April 30, 2012.
Just as the shipwrights are hard at work on the fabric of the vessel, so too is the rest of the staff at work on the programming and exhibits that will go with her when she embarks on her Voyage in 2014. Thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities Bridging Cultures planning grant, we invited 14 scholars to Mystic Seaport last January to participate in a two-day planning charrette to assist us in developing the programming for the Voyage. The scholars, each a leader in their field, ranged from historians to marine biologists, and the wide-ranging discussion helped guide us to be certain our work is in line with current academic thinking.
The exhibits team is preparing to open a new art exhibit in the Stillman Building this April in conjunction with the Dalvero Academy in Brooklyn. Dalvero artists traveled to Mystic Seaport last year to visit the Morgan and interpret her through their work. The exhibit is an exciting, innovative project that we expect to take the ship's story in an entirely new direction.
The curatorial staff successfully bid on a journal from one of the mates who sailed on the ship in 1889-1890. The journal fills a gap in our knowledge of life aboard the ship from her days sailing out of San Francisco and is a major addition to our vast collection on Morgan-related artifacts and documentation.
Last year saw the formation of a local Sail the Morgan 2014 committee, whose members are dedicated to raising funds and community support for the 38th Voyage, and Museum staff are working with state officials on designating 2013-2014 the "Year of the Morgan" in the State of Connecticut. The vision is to unite multiple state agencies, the Department of Economic Development, the Connecticut Commission on Tourism, and the Department of Education, among others, to develop events, promotion, and content that show the people of Connecticut what a great treasure they have here at Mystic Seaport.
We are all aware that we face a difficult economy at the present time. However, Mystic Seaport has been proactive in adjusting its financial planning and operational efficiency to help us weather this rough patch and to enable us to thrive and execute our mission at the same time.
One point deserves special mention: Mystic Seaport has no debt. That is a significant accomplishment in this day and age and is a testament to the thoughtful and responsible management of the Museum. The lack of debt enables us to take on projects and initiatives that otherwise we would be not be able to do, and it puts us in the driver's seat in determining our financial future.
Over the last several years we have tightened our budget practices to ensure that we are spending our funds wisely and that we dedicate the maximum amount possible to mission-critical initiatives. We've analyzed our business lines with an eye to seizing opportunities where they present themselves. For example, we have entered into a promotional partnership with Brewer Yacht Yards to co-market our transient dock business and are adding Wi-Fi to keep our offering on par with local marinas. Similarly, we have decided to take much of our marketing design and production work in-house to reduce our costs and enable our marketing firm, Adams & Knight, to focus on our creative messaging and advertising campaign. These are but two examples of how we are striving to be smart and strategic with our operation.
Our annual operating budget depends upon income generated by our endowment, and as a result of our tight fiscal management we are reducing our need for such support. By lowering our annual draw, we give our capital the room to grow, while still providing needed funds to support our operations. One way we are making progress toward that goal is by increasing donor participation in the Annual Fund. We are having good success in increasing the number of donors to the Fund so far this year.
Exhibits and Education
While we work hard to generate the funds to support the Museum's activities, it is gratifying to see what we can do with that support. The curatorial staff is conducting a comprehensive assessment of our collections. This process assists us in maintaining the nation's leading maritime history collection and involves not just identifying the contemporary importance of what we currently possess, but also what artifacts we should be pursuing to strategically add to our holdings.
In addition to the Dalvero exhibit mentioned earlier, we will open "Treasures from the Collections" in the Schaefer Gallery on March 31. This is an exhibit that takes a different perspective of our collections. While each object has an important value to maritime heritage, many of them are works of art or creative expression as well. This exhibit seeks to present some of the most significant objects primarily for their artistic and aesthetic merit. The remarkable pieces come from across the entire breadth of our collections and range from fine art, to rare scrimshaw, to ships plans.
Our staff is lending their expertise to the construction of an exhibit at the neighboring Lyman Allyn Art Museum on the War of 1812. We are also loaning some artifacts for the project.
As always, a great deal of support is dedicated to maintaining our watercraft collection. Of note for 2012 is funded work on the L.A. Dunton, the Sabino, and the Joseph Conrad.
A major priority is for us to develop contemporary delivery systems for our historic message. We describe our plans this way: on-site, on-board, and on-line. Our Online Learning Community team is working with teachers and students to figure out better ways to access our collections online to support classroom learning and further research for new audiences. We hope the resulting innovative Interactive Artifact Records will greatly enhance our ability to share our collections and assist educators throughout the world. For example, we have partnered with a Minnesota public school district to give access to Mystic Seaport content for their curriculum, one of our former interns from Brown University is developing a Greenmanville Tour for the iPad, and we are considering a range of ways to use mobile technology as part of the visitor experience.
A longer range project is our plan for a new state-of-the-art exhibit space. We are revisiting the Mystic Seaport master plan to develop a "Gallery Quad" in what is now Anchor Circle. The new exhibit space and gallery arrangement would give us the ability to provide larger exhibits and to create a better four-season experience. Much of this project is already funded and we are working to set a start date for this critical step in our master plan.
Over the past year there has been a lot of media coverage and discussion about the state support - or lack thereof - of the tourism industry. So far, we have been encouraged by the changes in Hartford. The new administration has restored money to market the state, and our initial work with the new marketing team has been positive and constructive. We are doing our best to make Mystic Seaport as strong an institution as possible. We feel a strong Mystic Seaport is crucial for tourism in the region, and a strong Eastern Connecticut is crucial for the state. We believe that view is shared, and with the state's help we are optimistic for revitalized marketing effort to help us all have a successful 2012.
Stephen C. White