Every institution and its community of people depend upon a clear mission that brings clarity of purpose to its constituents and distinguishes it from other organizations. It becomes the active spirit of the institution that guides policy making and program decisions. There is no doubt that Mystic Seaport has been guided well over the years by the mission “to create a broad, public understanding of the relationship of America and the Sea.” In fact, you can “see” this mission played out throughout the Museum’s exhibits, campus, and programs.
For the past several months, Mystic Seaport has been undergoing a comprehensive strategic planning process to establish the Museum’s priorities for the years ahead. In May, the Board of Trustees voted to approve the framework and concepts of the Plan, which included a new mission statement, clarified core values, a vision statement, and seven broad goals to achieve the vision. I wish to thank the many trustees and staff who were involved with this critical project over the past several months, as their work has yielded a Plan with a philosophical underpinning that will ensure the Museum’s leadership in the maritime world while advancing a stronger, more financially stable organization.
As our initial discussions unfolded, it became clear that we needed to review the mission, as there was some concern that the long standing mission might not clearly define all that the institution aspires to be. In the end, we concluded that the mission statement needed to change – not a radical departure from the existing statement but rather an important shift towards being more proactive: “Mystic Seaport is a museum that strives to inspire an enduring connection to the American maritime experience.” Importantly, given this raison d’etre, Mystic Seaport will endeavor to make the maritime experience an important, lasting element for those who interact with the Museum in some manner.
Equally as important as an organization’s mission is its core values. These beliefs which guide our conduct and institutional philosophy are central to decision making and policy making, and they should be readily apparent to the visitor. The good news about Mystic Seaport is that we have long been deeply committed to fundamental principles when it comes to interpretation, education, and preservation, but just how would one articulate those beliefs? In order to ground the planning team’s work in these institutional beliefs, we had to select the predominate ones from the sea of numerous, meaningful concepts. After careful deliberation, the agreed upon core values for the Museum are: knowledge, authenticity, inspiration, stewardship, and community. We hope that you agree with us that these values are prevalent and deeply felt throughout Mystic Seaport.
Finally, effective planning depends upon a third component – vision. Goals within the Plan have to tie to a vision that will set us apart from other maritime museums and that will capitalize on the Museum’s prodigious assets. What vision of the future could capture what is best about Mystic Seaport while also providing the motivation to unify trustees, staff, members, and even visitors around an evolving principle? Given the broad scope of our talented staff, the extraordinary depth of our collection, and the unique sense of place on the Mystic River, we knew that we had the components for a one-of-a-kind opportunity to marry these qualities around a concept that would allow the Museum to flourish. This emerging discipline or methodology, that promotes experiences which are immersive, compelling, and interactive yet grounded in relevance and authenticity, is known as public history. By combining our assets with this methodology, Mystic Seaport will significantly influence how new generations engage with our nation’s past, present, and future. This vision – a call to action – will guide the Museum’s future actions and provide the inspiration for our important work as a maritime museum in a changing world. In short, we hope that our work will have such an impact on those who interact with Mystic Seaport that they will somehow be different as a result of their time with us. We hope that our influence will help create wiser, stronger citizens who will not forget or ignore the important role that maritime history played in our evolution as individuals and as a nation.
In the near future, the Strategic Plan will be shared with the Mystic Seaport community, once we have agreed upon the format and presentation. Next month, I will share with you the agreed upon goals that will determine our near term and long term work. It’s a deep and significant Plan and there is still much prioritization to be done, but I am confident that it is a pathway to a bright and strong future.