On April 8, 2021, after a temporary closure amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the USS Constitution Museum will reopen to the public in celebration of its 45th anniversary. Anne Grimes Rand, USS Constitution Museum President & CEO, will be there with a wide smile under her mask to welcome back visitors.
Rand has been a guiding force at the Museum for over three decades. She’s navigated a pandemic, recession, government shutdowns, and myriad transformative projects along the way, but the Museum’s longest-serving employee and current President & CEO has weathered the storms with undaunted courage and positivity. What’s her advice? “Try to make it fun,” she says. “People should feel valued, listened to, creative, respected at work…and asking for help can become a group success.”1
Rand’s deep knowledge of the Museum and “Old Ironsides,” along with her business strength and leadership acumen, has helped her guide the Museum through highs and lows in a culture of creativity and growth over the past 35 years. A love of sailing and the sea, combined with her studies of maritime New England at Dartmouth College, led Rand to the USS Constitution Museum in 1986, just 10 years after it opened. She began as research associate and was promoted to assistant curator within a year. In that position, she mastered the historical narrative of USS Constitution in the traditionally male-dominated field of naval history, and developed educational content for family-friendly exhibits and engaging public programs.
After making her mark early on, Rand soon became the Museum’s sole curator in a one-person department. In her 12 years as curator, Rand expanded the Museum’s exhibit offerings and managed the storage and care of a growing collection of artifacts and archival records related to the ship’s history. She oversaw an expansion of the Museum facility that doubled the exhibit space, creating the opportunity for new exhibits that blended interactive elements and traditional displays. This approach to creating research-based, audience-focused, hands-on, minds-on exhibit experiences has been the Museum’s paradigm ever since. Rand designed 14 new exhibits in all, and established the Museum as a destination where inter-generational groups seeking an enjoyable, educational experience can have fun and learn as they explore history together.
During her time as curator, Rand also led efforts to achieve accreditation by the American Association of Museums and later become a Smithsonian Affiliate. In 1996, she earned her master’s degree in American Civilization from Brown University. In 1997, she had the privilege of narrating aboard USS Constitution when the ship returned to sea and sailed under its own power for the first time in 116 years. That same year, Rand received the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Distinguished Service, the highest recognition awarded by the USS Constitution Museum Board of Trustees. After expanding the department with added staff and developing the Museum’s first conservation plan, Rand continued to climb through the ranks.
Over the next 10 years, Rand first served as Deputy Director and then as Executive Vice President. In that time, she led a seven-year collaborative national educational outreach program with the U.S. Navy called “Old Ironsides” Across the Nation. This traveling program brought USS Constitution’s stories to more than 100,000 teachers, students, and other members of the public nationwide. Rand visited several cities across the United States as part of this project and met with thousands of people. “I remember being at a mall in Indiana, and people kept coming up to us with stories of their personal connection to USS Constitution‘s history,” Rand recalls. “It amazed me each time.” For this nationwide effort, USS Constitution Museum staff were invited to the White House in 2004 to accept a National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Rand also led an innovative family learning project that would become the interactive exhibit All Hands On Deck: A Sailor’s Life in 1812, which opened to the public in 2009. Using the Museum’s paradigm for research-based, audience-focused exhibit design, Rand and her colleagues spent an entire summer testing and evaluating an exhibit prototype to find out what really worked for the Museum’s audiences. “We invested the time needed in prototyping so it was a successful exhibit when we cut the ribbon,” Rand recalls of what is now her favorite exhibit at the Museum.
In 2010, Rand stepped into her current role as USS Constitution Museum President & CEO. The Museum, along with the rest of the nation and world, were emerging from an historic economic recession. “After stabilizing our finances,” Anne remembers, “my goal was moving forward, pushing forward with our family learning initiatives.” With that goal in mind, Rand and her staff worked to transfer those initiatives from exhibits and into programs. The following year, with Rand at the helm, the Museum earned an American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award for being a center for family learning, and developing techniques to engage all ages in conversations about history.
“I try to build a team atmosphere where we can utilize the best of the whole crew with a culture of experimentation,” Rand says of her leadership style. “It’s ok to fail. I encourage people to bring their best ideas and best skills to the table. And we have fun while we’re at it.”
“As the President of the USS Constitution Museum, Anne Rand is the best leader I have ever known,” remembers Dr. Michael Beck, who served as commanding officer of USS Constitution from 1995 to 1997, and worked closely with Rand during that time. “She is an exemplar of those qualities identified with transformational leadership; developing shared values, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart of the community.”
There were more challenges on the horizon, however. In 2013, a United States government shutdown forced the Charlestown Navy Yard closed for 16 days. The Museum’s doors were shuttered as a result, so Rand encouraged her Museum crew to bring a mobile Museum beyond the Yard’s gates. In March 2020, the Museum closed once again when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “The moment that felt the lowest was Friday, March 13, 2020,” Rand says of what she considers perhaps the greatest challenge of her career. “We had just passed a budget based on our regular visitation, and I walked out that door not knowing when we might reopen again.” Challenged but undeterred, Rand quickly mustered the crew and turned the Museum inside-out with a slew of virtual offerings and educational programs that continue to reach far beyond the Museum’s walls. It turned out to be a successful formula.
“She’s an experienced CEO and an experienced educator,” remarked Sandra Moose, a senior advisor at the Boston Consulting Group who has served on numerous non-profit boards, during an episode of Executive Insights with Dan Daly. “I thought she was amazingly creative in very quickly expanding [the Museum’s] offerings and introducing new offerings in the area of video games, lectures, and virtual tours…She sent a signal that we’re here, we’ve survived, and we’re going to survive.”
Rand intends for the USS Constitution Museum to not only survive, but to thrive. Alongside Navy Yard partners at the National Park Service and USS Constitution, Rand has her sights on a new Museum and visitor experience center at the gateway to the Charlestown Navy Yard. The new Museum is just one more evolution in Rand’s sweeping career, and will build upon her continued investment in engaging visitors’ hands and hearts, as well as their minds.
“I love museums because they spark curiosity in visitors who sample our hands-on exhibits and contemplate life at sea,” says Anne in reflection of her career at the USS Constitution Museum. “We share stories of innovation, teamwork, service and sacrifice, both past and present. We encourage life-long learning and inspire the next generation of citizens and leaders. What could be more exciting than that?”
1 Anne W. Ackerson and Joan H. Baldwin, Leadership Matters (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013), 116.
Unless otherwise noted, all other interviews were conducted by USS Constitution Museum staff in March 2021.
Manager of Curatorial Affairs, USS Constitution Museum
Kate Monea is the Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the USS Constitution Museum.