The Spirit of Mystic Seaport

Seascapes: Fall 2009

Steve WhiteThese days organizations are fixated on restating and interpreting mission statements, a vitally important process, to be sure. But I wonder if more attention shouldn’t be given to the spirit of an institution? A mission statement, after all, no matter how meaningful and well drafted, will ring hollow without being fully complemented by institutional spirit.

Since joining the Museum during the cold winter months (when even “spirit” had found other places to reside), I have witnessed and experienced firsthand Mystic Seaport’s spirit awaken and blossom. In fact, I’m feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all that the spirit means here, and I understand far better why so many have been deeply committed to the Museum for so long. Spend some extended time here as a member, visitor, volunteer or employee and you’ll know what I mean.

We find this spirit, you see, in the very heart of the institution — its people. They are collectors and conservers; they are exhibitors and interpreters; and they are caretakers and stewards. They actively tell the story of Mystic Seaport from their perspective as protectors and promoters. They reach out and engage the visitors to draw them in so that they, too, can be captured by the spirit unique to a museum of this sort.

But the spirit of a museum extends well beyond its many caretakers. We find it everywhere we look and in the unique experience that each visit yields. It’s in the smell of the wood and in the unique story that each object brings to bear. The spirit is in the hush of the collection, quiet behind its protective doors, and it’s in the decks and holds of each vessel whose journeys we can only begin to imagine.

Without doubt, it’s in the joy of a child’s face while experiencing the joy of sailing a small boat solo. At an outdoor museum, it’s also in the quiet of the morning and in the peaceful dusk of evening. Those of you who come by boat know well what I mean here, as you have the campus to yourselves during those special times. If you’ve spent any time at all at sea, Mystic Seaport and its spirit speaks directly to you. It surprises you around every corner, and if you’re lucky enough to have a private moment on the campus away from the crowds, there’s no telling where the spirit here will take you. Are you a fisherman, a carver, a painter or a yachtsman? This is part of the magic here that brings you back to the campus. It’s what you’ve come to expect from Mystic Seaport and the role players, interpreters, and volunteers who help connect you to our Museum spirit.

See you on the L.A. Dunton,

Steve White



Stephen C. White