We all benefit when we are clear about what matters.
I have always admired the clarity of vision that comes through the work and writings of Morris Vogel, the retiring president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Morris is one of my colleagues at the National Trust, and I value our professional relationship. On a personal level, Morris is someone I look to for both advice and inspiration.
In these days when the nation is – once again – struggling with its checkered history on immigration, the Tenement Museum has stepped time and again into these conversations in ways powerful, relevant and timely. I found the following statement, which Morris recently shared with his board and staff, a great reminder of how clarity of vision and mission is so important in finding one’s voice.
“Tenement Museum leadership in the museum field means that our colleagues at other institutions regularly ask how we handle difficult issues, and we’ve recently fielded requests for information about how we determined our pro-active response to the government’s refugee ban. The answer is that the Board of Trustees had already adopted a mission statement, strategic plan, and vision statement that spoke with clarity about the Museum’s role and purposes. Our mission statement calls for the Museum to “forge emotional connections between visitors and immigrants past and present; and enhance appreciation for the profound role immigration has played and continues to play in shaping America’s evolving national identity.” Our strategic plan calls for the Museum to “provide leadership to the national and international historical museum community by demonstrating how institutions can utilize the past to illuminate key issues of the present.” And our vision statement calls for the Museum to “demonstrate to visitors and the larger public, viscerally and intellectually, that America’s open society, democratic institutions, cultural creativity, economic vitality, and ability to accommodate difference owe to our experience as an immigrant nation.” That kind of clarity allows us to offer powerful historical programs and to speak effectively about present-day immigration to the broader public.”
In three sentences around mission, vision, and strategy, you have an incredible example of how understanding what matters can direct one’s life work. Morris then continued with this call to relevance:
“The fact that a nation could build and continually renew itself through the hopes that brought uprooted peoples to our shores has never been more important than it is now. The stories of those dreamers form the heart of the Tenement Museum. Let me know if you want to visit with us—in these unsettled times—to renew your commitment to America’s enduring values.”
I have always been proud of the National Trust’s association with the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and never more so than during these unsettled times. We will miss Morris’ presence at our meetings when he retires this summer, but something tells me that this clear voice for justice and the importance of our past stories to life today will continue. Thank you, good friend, for reminding us of how to be clear about what matters.
Have a good week.
More to come…