The announcement that the Hilton Head Island museum had been tapped by the venerable Washington, D.C.-based institution to become a partner came in early November.
But what exactly does the designation mean and how did the organization, located on the 68-acre Honey Horn property in the northwest corner of the island, achieve such a status?
"It means a lot," said the museum's president and CEO Rex Garniewicz at a museum lecture held Wednesday night at the Coligny Theatre on Hilton Head. Garniewicz was joined by Smithsonian's Harold Closter, director for the affiliations program, who gave a brief presentation on the designation to those in attendance.
As the two explained, being an affiliate allows for a collaboration that will benefit both organizations.
"We can do a lot more together than we could just by ourselves," Garniewicz said.
Established in 1996, the affiliation program works with those selected to "enrich communities with Smithsonian resources."
As affiliate members, Coastal Discovery museum staff, for example, would be able to take advantage of professional development and continuing education programs offered through the institution.
Staff members and educators would also have access to the Smithsonian's many wide and varied resources, many of which are online.
"They'll be able to call upon curators to answer questions and utilize their artifact loan program," Garniewicz said.
In return, the Smithsonian adds an important research partner to its roster.
Smithsonian officials were particularly interested in Coastal Discovery's wetlands program -- a natural addition to research the institute is already conducting on coastal wetlands at a site in the Chesapeake Bay area.
Partnering with museums and organizations who lead "citizen scientists" type programs or similar research and education programs is important now more than ever in the changing world, Closter said.
"We can't send a thousand scientists out into the world to count birds or butterflies," he said. "But we can utilize the resources of museums around the country to tell us what's going on with your water or what's going on with your crab population or what's happening to migratory birds that come through."
The local wetlands program wasn't the only thing that impressed Smithsonian officials.
Officials looked at a number of factors when considering the organization's application -- factors such as the museum's commitment to education and community service, it's art and cultural heritage programs and "the leadership and quality of staff," Closter said.
"They are integrating different perspectives... art, history, science and showing how all of it is interrelated," Closter said. "I think that's important because sometimes we try to divide things up too easily, and we don't see that our world is connected."
While the process for applying for affiliation status was a "rigorous" one that took about a year, Garniewicz said going through the exercise has already helped the museum, now celebrating its 30th anniversary, improve its policies and processes.
Simply put, "it helps museums meet museum standards," he said.
The new status should increase the museum's brand nationally as well as help it to grow existing programs, he added.
And since the organization will now be listed among Smithsonian Affiliates on the institute's website, new visitors are likely to discover the museum many in the area have already come to think of as their own.
"But I think more than increasing the number of visitors, (the affiliation) will increase the quality of the experience that people have when they come to the museum," Garniewicz said.
Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.
- Coastal Discovery Museum named Smithsonian affiliate, Nov. 6, 2015
- Art Notes: Big music weekend -- plus book events, new art and an audition, Nov. 12, 2015