Mystic Aquarium has earned some high profile attention this month, recognized at a White House ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) honored Mystic Aquarium as the only aquarium or zoo nationwide to receive its National Medal for Museum and Library Service for 2014. Impressively, Mystic Aquarium was one of four Connecticut finalists considered for the National Medal, along with the Hartford Public Library, Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury and Otis Library in Norwich. A total of only 30 institutions across the country were finalists, from which ten winners were ultimately chosen.
The National Medal is the nation’s highest honor conferred on museums and libraries for service to their communities. The Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent agency of the U.S. government with the mission to create strong libraries and museums that connect people with information and ideas, is celebrating its 20th year of saluting institutions that make a difference for individuals, families and communities.
Mystic Aquarium gives back to the community with a direct financial impact of $72.2 million annually. In addition, the aquarium buys $5 million in services and supplies from Connecticut businesses annually. The institution’s conservation efforts protect the vitality of Long Island Sound, an important revenue-generating natural resource for Connecticut. It is the largest informal science education provider in Connecticut and Southeastern New England, reaching 100,000 students annually.
The work of Mystic Aquarium was brought to the attention of Susan H. Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, by some of Connecticut’s most prominent cultural, education and government leaders. Rodney A. Butler, Mystic Aquarium Trustee and Chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, nominated the Aquarium for the National Medal, noting the pivotal role the Aquarium plays with its education and cultural exchange program for Native American high school students from the village of Point Lay, Alaska, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in southeastern Connecticut.
A major criterion for the award is the institution’s impact on members of its local community. Dr. Stephen M. Coan, President and CEO of Sea Research Foundation, the parent of Mystic Aquarium, who accepted the National Medal from Mrs. Obama, said: “We are honored to receive this prestigious award. We are committed to our educational and public engagement programs that make Mystic Aquarium not only an enjoyable family destination, but also a research facility dedicated to protecting our oceans and its aquatic creatures.”
U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy supported the nomination along with Stonington Public Schools, which cited the Aquarium’s exemplary work with young people with intellectual disabilities. Michael Cotela, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Stamford extolled the Aquarium’s critical educational programming for underserved communities.
Founded in 1973, Mystic Aquarium has a collection of 4,000 animals, including such species as beluga whales and the endangered African Penguin.
PHOTO (Left to right): Justin Richard, Stephen M. Coan, Mrs. Obama.