When Attraction Isn’t Enough: A Conversation with John Racanelli, CEO of National Aquarium

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John Racanelli

Courtesy Citybizlist – Baltimore’s National Aquarium has always been a success, drawing tourists and locals alike to its exhibits for decades. But I have wondered how an organization that’s in the business of attracting an audience to come inside has any impact on the issues facing the aquatic world beyond its walls. Is it enough to have engaging exhibits? What role should the Aquarium have with advocacy surrounding the health of our Bay for example? So I recently sat down with John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium, to explore how he’s juggling the seemingly incongruous goals of entertaining, educating and advocating as it charts new waters.

Beyond the Attraction. We didn’t waste any time jumping in to what I have always struggled with, how does an aquarium move past being simply an attraction? John actually reshaped the question for me, “how do you link the experience within the aquarium to what’s happening outside its walls?” We started with the reality that as an attendance driven organization, the National Aquarium has to attract customers to remain viable. No customers, no aquarium. So there is a constant balancing act between delivering a message advocating for the Bay and other issues and giving audiences what they paid to see… One has to accept that inherent conflict in order to sort through finding a higher purpose. So the opportunity facing John becomes how to move beyond the attraction. John frames the challenge himself.  “We can’t show what a healthy aquatic system looks like and have our own backs turned to the body of water that’s deeply polluted. It’s wrong.”

Read more at Citybizlist



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