A Long-Term Relationship: A Feasibility Case Study of Maria Mitchell Association: Nantucket Aquarium & National Science Museum Expansion

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The Maria Mitchell Association (MMA) is a non-profit organization preserving the legacy of Nantucket native Maria Mitchell—a prominent astronomer, naturalist, librarian, and educator, and one of the scientific world’s most revered historical figures. MMA maintains several properties: a natural science museum, an aquarium, two observatories, and Maria Mitchell’s historic birthplace, offering a wide variety of programming for residents and visitors. In 2016, MMA began planning for a large new aquarium and science center facility to unify their varied offerings into a single cornerstone visitor experience.


Zoo Advisors’ strong reputation as a leader in zoo and aquarium planning led MMA to engage the firm to conduct a feasibility study of the project. The goal was to assess the potential of the market to support the new facility via three phases: discovery and market research; stakeholder workshops; and operational modeling. By developing an operating concept that aligned with MMA’s vision and then testing the associated revenue and expense impacts within the context of the Nantucket resident and tourism market, the report concluded that the new facility would be feasible and recommended moving ahead with more detailed planning.

The Association again contacted Zoo Advisors to refresh MMA’s strategic plan to test and modify it to align with the organization’s new direction. Zoo Advisors engaged Association leadership, staff and stakeholders regarding the opportunities and constraints confronting MMA through multiple workshops, yielding consensus of the key elements of MMA’s future identity and re-envisioning mission and vision statements to align with MMA’s evolving direction.  The revised strategic plan provided a compelling vision for the future, energized the board and staff, and identified high priority areas and a timeline to start immediate work.

As a proven partner, Zoo Advisors was engaged once again ten months later to conduct an organizational assessment, providing MMA with a plan for developing and allocating its personnel as it transitions towards the new facility’s opening. This assessment highlighted three distinct operating periods: the near-term; the transition; and the opening and operation of the new attraction. The assessment determined how existing personnel resources should be arranged, what new resources would be required, and how best to integrate them via a four-month process that included interviews with every staff member and close communication with senior management.


Throughout each phase of planning, MMA received a roadmap for their future success from Zoo Advisors. The project deliverables provided MMA with the data and information needed to optimally prepare them for an upcoming period of significant growth and change as they deliver on their bold mission and vision.  

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Dr. Frederick Lahodny

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