A Great Start

Reopening weekend, known to most of us as Presidents’ Day weekend, was a phenomenal success with more visitors over five days than we had over a similar six-week period last year. Furthermore, that success followed on a strong close to 2011 with November visitation up 40 percent, December up 30 percent, and the ever-popular Lantern Light Tours up 25 percent! Clearly, we are getting the message out that the Museum is more than a summer destination and everyone was ready for Mystic Seaport to open its doors.

Last month I wrote about all the great work that was being done on the physical campus: new roofs, new boilers, new docks, and many, many other projects. This month I get to write about the intangible work we are doing: the curatorial, exhibition, educational, and advancement initiatives that we pursue with just as much vigor. Mystic Seaport is not just about preserving the artifacts of America’s maritime heritage; it is also about the ways in which we share the stories the artifacts have to tell us. And we are off to a great start for 2012.

"Ship in a Gale" by James E. Buttersworth is featured in "Treasures from the Collections" MSM # 1949.3176

“Ship in a Gale” by James E. Buttersworth is featured in “Treasures from the Collections” MSM # 1949.3176

While the trucks, excavators, and pile drivers had the run of the grounds the last couple of months, the rest of the staff was busy working on the new programs and exhibits we will unveil over the course of the year. On March 31, we will open “Treasures of the Collections” in the Schaefer Gallery. This exhibit takes a different perspective on our collections: Of the two million artifacts we have accessioned for their historic importance, which ones deserve appreciation for their artistic value? Curators Paul O’Pecko and Fred Calabretta asked this question and found objects that represent remarkable creative achievements in addition to their historic provenance. The exhibit ranges from fine art, to figureheads, to original photographs, and ships’ plans — most of which are not normally on public display. It will be a rare opportunity to see some of the best of the best that Mystic Seaport has collected since 1929.

Where “Treasures” mines our collections for inherent beauty, the other major exhibit for 2012 looks beyond Greenmanville Avenue, in this case to Brooklyn. On April 28, we will open a joint exhibit with the artists of the Dalvero Academy. Last year we invited them to come onto the grounds, see the Charles W. Morgan, and interpret her in a purely artistic – and individual – way. The results are exciting and we can’t wait to see the final exhibit installed in the Stillman Building.

Our Online Learning Community team is hard at work on figuring out ways to share our collections in a more contemporary manner through our relationship with educators around the country. From using Google Earth to map the voyages of the Morgan to developing an iPad app to deliver a virtual tour of the Greenmanville buildings, our staff is working to make sure we are leveraging the advantages new technology and thinking can help us tell America’s maritime story.

Finally, while the shipwrights were installing the first plank on the Morgan’s exterior last month, two anonymous donors were also helping to get her back to sea in 2014. Through their generosity, we have a matching challenge grant that could raise as much as an additional $145,000. This is an opportunity to make your gift to the Morgan go even further if you give before April 30. I encourage you to do so.

These are but a few of the things happening at Mystic Seaport this year. I recently gave a presentation on everything we are working on for 2012. If you are interested in learning more, I have summarized my talk online. We have great things happening this year. I hope you will join us.

Steve White