Changes both within and without will characterize the 2020 season at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, with a renovated outdoor plaza, a new meeting room and enhanced educational programming.
Last fall the museum appointed a new president to take the organization’s helm this spring, following the retirement of former president John Allen, who held the post for seven years. Early this year, however, the board confirmed that the appointment of Laura Dambier as president would not go forward; the Hartford corporate executive would be taking another career path.
Peter Ubertaccio, president of the museum’s board of directors, said that the museum would not immediately be initiating a new presidential search, indicating that the board and museum management team felt this was a good moment for the organization to take some time to “reassess the museum’s work [in light of] where we want the museum to be in five to 10 years.”
Ubertaccio called the altered plan a chance “for a moment of introspection” and an opportunity for the museum to “rethink its strategic direction” in light of changes they’ve been implementing over the last few years.
The board, he said, will work closely with the museum’s management team of Emily Mezzetti (education programming); Moira Noonan-Kerry (development) and Jennifer Pappalardo (operations) to further develop their ongoing strategic plan for civic and cultural programming. He added that it’s an opportunity to “take a holistic view” of everything the museum is doing as it focuses on the John F. Kennedy legacy on Cape Cod.
The museum has a “unique mission (to explore) the kind of leadership Kennedy represented,” he said. People visit from many places to experience this special attachment to the Kennedys. “They come to remember,” he added.
According to Ubertaccio, several of the current museum exhibits will remain in place, including “JFK at 100: Life and Legacy” and “Creating Camelot,” iconic images of the young president taken by late photographer Jacques Lowe. A new exhibit is also planned, as yet unnamed.
Ubertaccio said the museum’s popular seasonal speaker series will continue, “capturing historical moments” relating to the Kennedy family as well as their unique relationship to the local community. A highlight of the summer program will be a talk by New York Times bestselling author Larry Tye on his new book, “Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy.”
Of increasing importance, Ubertaccio said, are the museum’s civic education programs, under the direction of Mezzetti, who has been the director of education programming since early 2018.
Mezzetti’s office, on the museum’s second floor, is reached by navigating plastic-sheeted stairwells, workmen and tubs of paint, all indicating that work on the museum’s new Community Room is nearing completion.
Enthusiastic about the upcoming season, Mezzetti said the museum looks forward to taking advantage of the new, more expansive meeting room for speakers, films and workshops, as well as use of the space by other civic groups and local businesses. “The space will have state-of-the-art technology and sound systems,” she said.
Calling the museum’s management team “highly collaborative,” she said the organization also hopes to continue partnering on some programming with the John F. Kennedy Library as well as the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, both in Boston.
A sign near the entryway draws attention to the museum’s “programs that foster civic engagement and perpetuate the Kennedy legacy of public service and citizenship.” Mezzetti, who has had a 37-year career on Cape Cod as both a teacher and school principal, noted her special commitment to the museum’s mission, especially “civic education.”
She works extensively with young people in after-school and vacation programs and says she hopes to “teach students to listen thoughtfully, think critically and dialogue respectfully.” An important part of the JFK legacy includes the late president’s “leadership style and wide interests,” such as the natural environment, Peace Corps, U.S. space program and commitment to the arts. Middle schoolers might focus on issues such as Black History month or homelessness; younger children become engaged with activities like building rockets or a study segment on local “superheroes.” The latter, she said, shows kids that “heroes are all around them.”
A recent state legislative grant to the museum for $30,000 will help with after-school programs such as field trips and programs designed to get students civically engaged within their local communities. A civics fair is planned this year to showcase the student projects.
Another recent program involved 120 eighth-graders from Acushnet who took part in a workshop on leadership, culminating in a mock election where students chose a presidential candidate of their choice, based on the leadership qualities they discussed during the three-hour program. Are the kids engaged in these discussions? “Very much so,” said Mezzetti. “It was fun to watch the students’ interest develop,” as well as their enthusiasm in holding the election.
Mezzetti works year-round with an education committee of 10 current and retired educators to develop civics education programs for both young people and adults. She emphasized that the real Kennedy legacy as shown in museum activities “makes the museum increasingly available to local residents and visitors alike.” She said the late president’s leadership style remains important today because of his qualities: “Hands-on, trusted decision-making, esteem for history, ability to inspire.”