A quarter century ago, the American Alliance of Museums posed this profound question: “How can museums – as multidimensional, socially responsible institutions with a tremendous capacity for bringing knowledge to the public and enriching all facets of the human experience – help to nurture a humane citizenry equipped to make informed choices in a democracy and to address the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly global society?”

After its Nature Research Center wing opened in 2012, the Museum embarked on the essential task of updating statements to define its evolving purpose, character and direction. Among these was a set of core values to enunciate the service-driven ways that the Museum thinks, acts and reacts in pursuit of its new mission to illuminate the interdependence of nature and humanity. We pinpointed integrity, professionalism and commitment as our foundation; inclusion, innovation and collaboration as our approach; and engagement, impact and sustainability as our outcome. These are now entrenched in the Museum’s code of ethics.

As one of just a hundred of the nation’s 35,000 museums which have been recognized at the White House for outstanding community service, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences is widely viewed as an innovator. The just-received report of its reaccreditation by the American Alliance of Museums concludes that this institution “does so many things so well … overall, it is in amazing shape for any museum, much less a state museum, in particular noting that it has forthrightly evolved its interpretative philosophy and strategy to address ‘bigger’ stories about humans as an inseparable element in the ecosystem of all life, and therefore to be concerned about matters of conservation and sustainability.”

In today’s troubled world, a proactive focus on inclusion in all respects has become vital. At this Museum, we recognize that our governance, staff and volunteers do not yet mirror the diversity of the communities we serve. We are however pleased that our progressive efforts to diversify the Museum’s audience have become benchmarks:

  • On March 3, 2015, The News & Observer opined: “Columbus County, two hours due south of Raleigh, in a rural underemployed region of North Carolina might seem like an unlikely place for a satellite of the state Museum of Natural Sciences. But that is exactly why it has become home to its own museum branch. The wise strategy of the state museum is to reach out to rural areas and in particular to the children of those regions to give them a taste of science, a chance to share in the wondrous world of the spectacular museum in downtown Raleigh.”
  • Liani Yirka, who leads accessibility and inclusion programs in our Community Engagement Section, has just been recognized by the NC Governor and Raleigh’s Mayor for her public service innovations. For the Museum’s vision and hearing impaired visitors, we are a global pioneer in offering hand-held accessibility technologies. And assisted by a team of volunteers from the SAS Institute, we provide annual convenings for students with disabilities to meet professionals with disabilities about STEM career paths.
  • Next year, we will host the award-winning exhibition “RACE: Are We So Different?” as a free learning experience through the support of the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation, City of Raleigh, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Duke University’s Center for Genetics, Race, Identity and Difference, BB&T Bank, Wells Fargo, and others. Conceived for the museum field by the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota with funding from the Ford Foundation and National Science Foundation, this exhibition delves into the science of human variation, the history of the idea of race, and the contemporary experience of race and racism in the U.S.

Your support of this remarkable, forever advancing, Museum is deeply appreciated.

Emlyn Koster, PhD
Director, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Past Columns in the Naturalist