Communicating the Mission of the Museum to the World

At its best, a mission statement tells the world what an institution stands for. It also serves as a focusing mechanism for staff, board, and volunteers, a handy reminder of their primary responsibility. At Carnegie Museum of Art, we recently reworked our mission statement. In substance it is close to what we had before, but it is more pointedly focused on this particular museum and its community:

Carnegie Museum of Art enriches people’s lives through art. The museum is committed to global engagement and regional advancement. We champion creativity and its importance to society with experiences that welcome, inspire, challenge, and inform. Our core activities—collecting, conserving, presenting, and interpreting works of art—make those experiences possible.

Step by step, it moves from the personal out into the larger world, and then back to the museum’s essential functions. The first sentence, Carnegie Museum of Art enriches people’s lives through art, is an expression of our most significant goal, one that every staff and board member can easily remember. It also states with great clarity that everything we do, all of our value, grows out of the art that we show. At CMOA, we have a broad mandate that includes scholarly exhibitions and publications, community outreach, the Web and social media, shows of emerging artists, and a lifelong education program, among many other activities. All of them provide enrichment through art.

Participants at the event “Drawing Experience with Nicole Eisenman,” February 27, 2014
Participants at the event “Drawing Experience with Nicole Eisenman,” February 27, 2014

The second sentence, The museum is committed to global engagement and regional advancement, speaks to our relationship with Pittsburgh. Our program brings art from all over the world to the city, broadening perspectives here. Outside the region, every success that we have reflects back on Pittsburgh, enhancing its desirability as a place to live and work. In that way, we serve the general populace and also the local corporate, business, and nonprofit communities.

The third sentence has political intent; it addresses the country as a whole: We champion creativity and its importance to society with experiences that welcome, inspire, challenge, and inform. It says that art is not a frill in schooling or in life. Rather, art experiences promote an open-ended creativity that is essential to all innovation and can be applied to any field. That free-floating creativity moves our country forward. In welcoming the public, this statement declares that the museum is for everyone. Implicit is the notion that we strive to make art accessible to all who are interested. The third sentence is designed to combat notions of elitism, which have sometimes been unfairly attached to museums.

The fourth sentence, Our core activities—collecting, conserving, presenting, and interpreting works of art—make those experiences possible, speaks to the foundation that allows us to achieve our ultimate goals. As Amy Whitaker noted in her book Museum Legs, “The collection and stewardship of objects that define museums functionally are not the end but the means—a means to many things, like enjoyment, learning, and revelation.”

Our new mission statement reflects our commitment to imparting art’s unique value to a broad public. In the United States, art has always been a bit suspect because it has no practical application, but the worthiest thing about it is its uselessness, the fact that it is not structured to solve a societal problem. And therein lies its use value: Art provides the purest and freest form of invention. If you are open to the experiences it offers, they can put you at the center of the creative act. At its best, that is a profound learning experience, a rare and wonderful thing.

Inside the Museum is Carnegie Museum of Art director Lynn Zelevansky’s blog about the local and global impacts of the museum and the art world. For past installments, please visit the archive.