Smithsonian Gardens Achieves Museum Accreditation
On March 11, 2013, Smithsonian Gardens received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), a designation that confers a high mark of distinction for a museum. Accreditation signifies excellence to the general public as well as to the greater museum community, the public garden community, and other cultural organizations.
Smithsonian Gardens (SG) began the accreditation process in 2007 by undertaking an Institutional Assessment through AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP). The assessment provided an overview of Smithsonian Gardens’ entire management and operational practices and involved three distinct phases—self-study, peer review, and implementation. Using the outcomes of the MAP assessment, Smithsonian Gardens launched an intensive strategic planning process which resulted in an organizational name change (it had formerly been known as Horticulture Services Division) and a refined mission.
Armed with SG’s FY2010-2015 Strategic Plan http://www.gardens.si.edu/about-us/docs/SmithsonianGardens-Plan.pdf , Smithsonian Gardens undertook the AAM accreditation process in 2010. To earn accreditation a museum first must conduct a year of self-study and then host a site visit by a two-person team of peers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an autonomous body of museum professionals, considers both the self-study and site visit report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.
Of the nation’s 17,500 museums, only 1,000 are currently accredited, and only 3% of the latter are public gardens. In the D.C. metro area only two other public gardens have attained accreditation status: the United States Botanic Garden (www.usbg.gov) and Green Spring Gardens (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring).
Accreditation recognizes high standards in individual museums and ensures that museums uphold their public trust obligations. Developed and sustained by museum professionals for over 40 years, AAM’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation and public accountability.
AAM’s Characteristics of Excellence are the standards by which all museums can and should strive to achieve in ways appropriate to their resources. To best serve their communities, it is essential that museums be committed to institutional improvement and maintaining the highest standards in collections stewardship, governance, institutional planning, ethics, education and interpretation, and risk management. AAM accreditation signifies excellence and accountability to the entire museum community, to outside agencies and to the museum-going public.
For more information about the American Alliance of Museums and its Accreditation Program, including a complete list of accredited museums, please visit www.aam-us.org .
–Sarah Hedean, Horticulturist