By Johnson County Museum Director Dr. Mary McMurray
Have you heard the amazing news from the Johnson County Museum? If not, please let me be the first to share with you that the Johnson County Museum earned national accreditation for the first time ever!
Accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums is the highest recognition museums can earn. It signifies quality and credibility and brings national recognition to the museum for our commitment to excellence, accountability, high professional standards, and continued institutional improvement. Of the nation’s estimated 35,000 museums, just 1,095 are accredited – and only two in the Greater Kansas City area. The Johnson County Museum is one of 11 accredited museums in Kansas.
Achieving national accreditation is not something that can be done alone. It requires a broad network of people working together to do something that can seem impossible: joining the ranks of the 3% of museums nationwide who have earned this high honor.
More than three years ago, the Johnson County Museum and our partners started a journey to national accreditation from the AAM. The path took many unexpected twists and turns as museum staff navigated through a global pandemic, temporary museum closure, and staff transitions (including me joining the team as museum director on April 6, 2020), but the team never gave up. We faced the process just like we faced the challenges: with a commitment to serving the public and the highest professional standards. I am so proud of the resilience, perseverance, and dedication of the team that made this huge honor possible.
As a historian, I often find myself reflecting on the past to find meaning in the present. As I reflect on this tremendous achievement for the museum, I cannot help but think there is something so beautiful in the fact that we earned national accreditation during a major anniversary – our 55th. That is because accreditation is a reflection not just of the work we do today, but the work that brought us to this point. I want to take a few minutes to share with you four reasons we are celebrating this huge first in the Johnson County Museum’s history.
1) Accreditation celebrates generations of service to the community
The Johnson County Museum traces its roots to community service, when a small group of dedicated volunteers had the forethought to know that collecting, preserving, and sharing the history of our county was important to the fabric of our community. Today, you see their legacy in the museum’s collection, but also in our visitor first philosophy. Because this organization was formed with a service mindset from the outset, today our staff views visitors not as an interruption of our work, but the reason for it. This focus on service to our visitors and community was critical to earning national accreditation, and it was woven into our DNA by the decades of volunteers who poured their time, energy, knowledge, and passion for community history into the museum from the beginning. As we celebrate our national accreditation, we also celebrate the community volunteers who started it all.
2) Accreditation is a testament to the professionalism of the museum’s staff
In 1986, the museum became part of Johnson County Government and hired its first professional staff. Beginning with Janet Campbell (the museum’s first director who accepted the All-Electric House into the collection) through Mindi Love (who led the museum through the move to the fantastic Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center and began the accreditation process) and now me, each museum director has had the opportunity and honor to hire and lead professionally-trained people who, like the volunteers on whose shoulders we all stand, are dedicated to serving our community. Our national accreditation is the outcome of nearly four decades of working toward the highest standards for museum work. We literally could not have achieved this high honor without the hard work and dedication of the Johnson County Museum staff past and present. Thank you all.
3) Accreditation is a reflection of the excellence we strive for each and every day here at Johnson County Park and Recreation District
Five years ago, the Johnson County Museum became part of JCPRD and, eventually, the Culture Division. During that time, we also moved to our stunning new location at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center. In this incredible building surrounded by the talented, innovative, and creative talents who work here (and throughout JCPRD), the museum celebrated its 50th anniversary. For those of you who know JCPRD well, it will be no surprise that shortly after that milestone, the team here set their sights on accreditation. This effort is, after all, just a reflection of the environment in which we work – one that is dedicated to the highest standards of excellence and service; one that is always striving to improve.
Don’t take my word for it. The accreditors praised the placement of the museum in a park and recreation agency, and noted that we are “supported in ways most museums do not have the luxury of,” including working for an executive director who “fully understands the value the museum brings to enhance the quality of area residents’ lives.” We are so grateful to JCPRD leadership and our colleagues for the standard of excellence they set – and the robust support they offer to help us meet our lofty goals.
4) Accreditation would not be possible without the support of our outstanding partners
Since its inception, the Johnson County Museum has benefitted from a strong relationship with Johnson County and our colleagues in it. As part of the accreditation, we went through a two-day site visit during which the peer reviewers examined all of our spaces (including maintenance closets, behind doors, and more!), and assessed our operations. One key thing they were looking for was that we maintained optimal conditions for collections storage. During their visit, the peer reviewers crossed paths with our partner in Johnson County facilities who was very new on staff and began peppering him with questions about humidity and temperature levels where collections items are stored. Although our facilities partner was very new to the team, he expertly responded to all of the questions. This is but one of many examples of how the Facilities team helps the museum operate both our main location in Overland Park and Lanesfield Historic Site in Edgerton. From maintaining optimal humidity and temperatures for locations where we store artifacts and providing security for those spaces to maintaining historic buildings and transforming others, our relationships with Johnson County facilities, planning, sheriff’s department, communications, leadership, and more are also part of this huge accomplishment as well.
The Johnson County Museum is also lucky to have excellent partners around our community. From the collaborative museum community in the region to our membership base, from area chambers of commerce to our donors and volunteers, community partners make us better, help us serve, and help us grow. For example, for the past 35 years, the museum has benefitted from the guidance, support, partnership, and collaboration with not one, but two volunteer boards: the Museum Advisory Council and the Johnson County Museum Foundation. Members of each board dedicate numerous hours to helping the museum with everything from evaluating climate reports in museum spaces to raising nearly a million dollars to help the museum move to the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center. For accreditation, specifically, we had to develop, review, and approve policies for conducting museum business and a strategic plan. Like the campaign to raise funds to move to this location, the museum staff did not do this alone. We did it alongside with those who choose to volunteer their time and talents on behalf of the mission. In this moment of accomplishment, we want to thank all of the members of the Johnson County Museum Foundation Board of Directors and Museum Advisory Council who were a major part of the museum’s accreditation.
Public service, professionalism, excellence, and partnerships. Each of these were critical to the Johnson County Museum earning is first-ever national accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. From this incredibly strong foundation, the museum worked for three years to earn this recognition. Through changes in staff, a global pandemic, and a host of other obstacles, the work continued. And that really is a testament to the environment in which we work. We stand on the legacy of those who came before us in this institution, emboldened by the high-performing and mission-driven work found throughout Johnson County and JCPRD, and empowered by our teammates and community partners to become one of the fewer than 30 county museums in the United States with national accreditation. We are so proud. And we hope you will join us in celebrating the Johnson County Museum. To learn more, visit JCPRD.com/museum.