Making my Museum Mission (M) statement
In looking back at my post from a few weeks ago, I see now how foolish it was to assume that I would be able to cover the development of my hypothetical Wild West museum in just two posts, no matter how hypothetical it is. The whole point of this exercise is to examine the challenges that museums of this sort face, from their conception to their construction. To sum up these challenges in just two posts would do a disservice to both the industry and to my better understanding of it. So today, instead of bringing my pipe dream to its conclusion, we will just examine the next chapter on the long, long road towards getting the place funded by a philanthropic billionaire.
This chapter is the museum’s mission statement. Every museum has one. It’s one to three sentences explaining why the institution exists, and what it’s trying to accomplish. For history museums, the mission statement usually provides a brief summary of the place and time period that is being represented. It helps you and your fellow visionaries to focus on the subject that you're trying to cover, and clearly explains exactly how you are different from other institutions doing similar things.
To give you a few examples, let’s turn to the two institutions that I’m channeling most closely; Plimoth Plantation, which showcases a replica of the 1627 Pilgrim settlement, and Old Cowtown in Kansas, an existing Wild West museum. The mission of Plimoth Plantation is to create “powerful, personal encounters with history built on thorough research about the Wampanoag People and the Colonial English community in the 1600s.”
Old Cowtown Museum states that they are
“an open air, living history museum that presents the history of Wichita, ,
and life on the southern plains, circa 1865 - 1880.” Sedgwick County
Each mission outlines exactly what it is that the museum is trying to accomplish, what makes it unique. The specifics of how the mission is to be carried out are left undefined, allowing for experimentation and evolution.
Working with this format, let’s decide what we want to do with our yet un-named replica frontier town. Here are a few goals that I would like our museum to strive for.
- To present a detailed look at life in a western frontier town of the late 1800s.
- To examine the people who lived in the town or nearby; who they are, what they do, and why they came to the town.
- To present the frontier life from as many different viewpoints as possible, utilizing historically accurate personalities, trades, and diverse ethnicities.
Vague, but it’s a start and we’ll work with it. As with other museums of this sort, our living history museum will also demonstrate period crafts, skills, and folkways. In order to keep all of these interpretations as accurate as possible, research will be carried out pretty much continuously, so as to remain current with recent scholarship. As we don’t have a location yet, or even a name, we can’t pin down these elements, but based on our goals we can craft a working mission statement that looks something like this:
“Nameless, faceless Wild West Museum aims to connect the public with the history of time and place, using recent scholarship and advanced interpretation techniques. NFWWM will furthermore explore the myths and realities of the Old West and the different people and groups who occupied it.”
As we continue to develop our vision of the museum, the mission statement can be edited, specified, and changed to more accurately reflect what we want to accomplish. Next time, we'll try to pin down exactly where and when we want our living history to live.
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Are you a philanthropic billionaire, or an easily persuaded one? Do you have a good-for-nothing frontier town lying around that refuses to get a job? All of these comments and more can be left in the comments section below.