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Staff Only: Behind Scenes Part 1

“STAFF ONLY”:  Behind the Scenes at MOA Part 1

I am often amazed, when I sit back and think about it, how much goes on behind the scenes at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology. 


 I like to compare museums to icebergs – in that what you see when you visit is just a tiny part of what is actually happening.  From working with the collection, researching exhibits, planning programs and events to the things we rarely consider as “museum work” but are critical to any business, like marketing, managing the finances, fundraising, and health and safety.  There is a lot happening at MOA that we want to share.

This blog series opens the “Staff Only” door to reveal what it takes to run a museum.  The planning, preparation, and work necessary to ensure we serve our community and, for us specifically, inspire the archaeologist in everyone.

This first post starts with what I believe to be the most important thing a museum has.  While there are those who would disagree with me, I’m actually not talking about the collection.  A museum’s collection is important and what separates it from other public service organizations, but I believe the collection is a means to an end and it is the end or “mission” that is most critical as we strive to meet our public trust responsibilities.

Museums have two fundamental public trust responsibilities: stewardship and public service.  Stewardship means that we are responsible for the collections we acquire and that we ensure they are available for future generations.  Public service means that we make the collections and the information about them accessible to everyone we serve.  (Canadian Museum Association’s Ethical Guidelines).  A museum’s mission defines how it will meet its public trust responsibilities and more importantly why it exists in the first place.

Stewardship: Caring for the collection
Stewardship: Caring for the collection
Public Service: Educational Program at MOA
Public Service: Educational Program at MOA

A good mission expresses the difference a museum is trying to make in its community and ultimately must answer the question WHY.  Being able to articulate WHY, and more importantly, share that with others, is key to a successful museum.

 Knowing your WHY is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success and have a greater blend of innovation and flexibility.  When a WHY goes fuzzy, it becomes much more difficult to maintain the growth, loyalty and inspiration that helped drive the original success.[i]


While this concept may seem simple, it is surprising how difficult it can be to articulate WHY a museum exisits.  It is easy to talk about WHAT we do and in some cases HOW we do it, but WHY is often elusive.  In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek does a great job of illustrating the difference in effectiveness between organizations and movements that have a clear understanding of their WHY vs. those that don’t.  This idea is summed up nicely in Simon’s TED talk.

Having a clear sense of WHY our museum exists, beyond the “stuff” we collects, has proven to be a critical first step in building long term sustainability and community engagement.

MOA Mission Meeting 2014.
MOA Mission Meeting 2014

For the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, developing a mission focused on WHY has resulted in a significant increase in volunteers and increased engagement within the community.  Getting to our WHY was not an easy process, but it was filled with excitement and optimism about our future as a museum.  Especially because our WHY was developed with input from many people, all of whom contributed to a stronger sense of purpose and direction for us.

MOA’s mission is:

Through stewardship, research and education the Museum continually strives to advance our understanding of Ontario’s archaeological heritage.  We bring the human past to life, make it relevant to understanding the present, and inspire an appreciation of, and respect for, Ontario’s cultural diversity.

Simply put, we believe that archaeology brings to life the stories of how people lived.  These stories connect us to our shared human heritage and give us a sense of place in the world.  We connect with each other through our stories and by sharing them we understand and appreciate each other more.

This is our starting point and we look forward to sharing more about what happens behind the “Staff Only” door in future posts.

Thanks for reading! – Joan Kanigan

[i]Sinek, Simon (2009).  Start with Why:  How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. London, England: Portfolio / Penguin, page 50.

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