MAP a Course for your Museum’s Future

By Tammy Perakis Wallace, Assistant Director, Richard M. Ross Art Museum

Why should you apply for the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) through the American Alliance of Museums? 

Why would you take the time and effort required to submit an application in the hopes of netting an on-site visit from a peer reviewer?

What good will it do your small/mid-sized museum?

In 2014, the Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University received a grant from the American Alliance of Museums to allow us to participate in an Organizational Assessment, with activities focusing on our mission and our Board of Advisors.

The Richard M. Ross Art Museum at Ohio Wesleyan University

Simply completing the lengthy information packet that is forwarded to our onsite peer reviewer was an excellent experience, allowing us to gather lots of individual pieces of information and combine them into a snapshot of our organization at this moment in time. Having all these parts together in a single document gives us a overview of our state of affairs. We were able to identify areas of expertise, as well as some deficiencies we weren’t even aware of. Several of these deficiencies were easily improved before our peer review, bringing our museum closer to the high standards we would like to achieve.

We did hire an outside consultant to help us present and coordinate the mission statement and strategic plan review activities to our national board of advisors, and to prepare portions of our follow-up review with our board. The consultant was very familiar with university museums and the types of standards and expectations of an advising board. Our board members were very enthusiastic about the new ideas and challenges to come.

Having selected our reviewer from a list provided by AAM, we prepared a very rigorous itinerary for his visit. We arranged for him to meet with as many groups of our constituents as we could, to include community members, students of our university, faculty from the Fine Art Department as well as faculty from other academic disciplines, senior administrators at the university and other staff members. We timed his on-site visit to coincide with visiting artists talks and a reception, so he could view how we function within our academic and local community. Each member of the museum staff was able to speak with the reviewer in private, with a guarantee of as much anonymity as possible. After four highly scheduled days of review, we waited on pins and needles for our reviewer’s final report.

When we did receive it about six weeks later, we felt that we had an incredibly useful tool to wield as we prepare for the future. We can be proud of our strengths and work confidently to improve those areas which need attention.

One of the most valuable aspects of the experience is all the resources and references that the AAM provides as you work toward best practices. In every area, there are free or nearly free web pages, printed materials and books that support your efforts. No re-inventing the wheel necessary!

Families and patrons enjoying a reception in one of the Ross Museum’s galleries

For our small, university-based museum, an important benefit of the review is its usefulness as an outside, unbiased opinion. When the museum makes its case for resources with the university administration and other supporters, we can add the appropriate passages from our review as further evidence of the importance of our requests. The requests are not being made at the whim of museum staff, but in support of important goals and improvements that will help us on the path towards operating at the highest level of professionalism in the field.

The Ross Art Museum is a young institution, having opened in 2002. We are facing the retirement of our founding Director within the next two years, so completing the MAP assessment at this point in our history will provide the search committee with an excellent idea of our strengths and the type of expertise and skills that will be most necessary in a new director going forward. It allows the Ross to identify areas which need improvement, and most importantly helps prioritize those items so we can stay focused on the most critical while we prepare for the next chapter in our history.

For more information about the Museum Assessment Program:

American Alliance of Museums
1575 Eye Street NW, Suite 400, Washington DC 20005

The Museum Assessment Program (MAP) helps small and mid-sized museums strengthen operations, plan for the future and meet national standards through self-study and a site visit from a peer reviewer. IMLS-funded MAP grants are non-competitive and provide $4,000 of consultative resources and services to participating museums.

MAP provides guidance and growth in the following areas:

  • prioritization of goals
  • focus on mission and planning
  • communications between staff, board and other constituents
  • credibility with potential funders and donors

The program offers four assessments:

  • Organizational
  • Collections Stewardship
  • Community Engagement
  • Leadership (full cost only)

The next MAP application deadline will be July 1, 2015. Please contact MAP staff  202-289-9118 to be added to our application notification e-mail list.

MAP is supported through a cooperative agreement between the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance.