Museum Advocacy

On February 24 and 25, the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) hosted its 6th annual Museums Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. Mystic Seaport has participated each year in this important event, and this year Susan Funk, executive vice president of Mystic Seaport, and I attended. More than 300 museum representatives attended seminars and workshops on the 24th to prepare us for advocating for museums with our respective legislators on the Hill on the 25th. AAM armed us with general, national information such as “each year, approximately 850 million visitors pass through our hallways and experience important lessons about the past, present and future…that’s more people than attend professional sports events each year.” We also carried with us specific economic and educational impact statements that served to underscore the value and the importance of Mystic Seaport to Connecticut and to our region.

On day two, we had the pleasure of representing museums, the State of Connecticut, and Mystic Seaport in meetings with the offices of every Connecticut legislator in Washington. We met with staff members and, in some cases, we met with the delegates themselves. We spoke directly with Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and with Congressman Joe Courtney about the importance of museums and the need for continued funding of federal programs such as the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). We are far more fortunate than many of our museum colleagues from other states because our Connecticut legislators consistently vote to fund these IMLS and NEH programs that provide important and significant funding for museums statewide and, more specifically, for programs at Mystic Seaport that include Mystic Seaport for Educators, the Munson Summer Institute, collections management, and programming for the 38th Voyage. Given our receptive audience, we had the chance to speak in detail about how the funding we have received has and will change the lives of employees, visitors, educators, and researchers. For example, over the past five years alone, IMLS has provided in excess of $5MM in grants to Connecticut institutions ($800,000 to Mystic Seaport) which has helped create jobs and economic growth for the state and its museums.

With respect to NEH, you are probably aware that we learned this past fall that we would receive a $450,000 Chairman’s Grant to support programming for the Morgan’s 38th Voyage, which includes the interactive dockside exhibit, the 38th Voyagers (70+ participants), the Stowaway, and a new Morgan-related exhibition post voyage. Enthusiasm for these programs and opportunities is high, as we received nearly 300 applications for the more than 70 voyagers ultimately to be selected, which included everyone from artists to scientists to poets and documentarians. These applicants came from all over the U.S. and abroad, with even an application from New Zealand. Over 100 individuals have applied to be the Stowaway, and we have been impressed with their creativity and excitement for the voyage. We will be offering you the opportunity to help us decide the Stowaway later this month; watch our Facebook page for more information.

Finally, through an exciting relationship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), we are developing engaging programming while onboard the Morgan on Stellwagen Bank. Stellwagen is one of 14 designated sanctuaries in the U.S., and ONMS is most interested in developing programming that takes full advantage of the prospect of the Morgan being among whales again on Stellwagen, which includes live public programming on OceansLIVE:

It was not lost on our legislators that a dollar invested in federal programs that eventually goes to places like Mystic Seaport has a far reaching impact. Let’s hope with their continued support for our advocacy that museums will continue to have access to federal funds through a competitive grant process. We all truly benefit!

Steve White