Ellen M. Rosenthal - President and CEO
Sitting behind my desk at Conner Prairie, I have a sweeping view over the entrance to 1836 Prairietown and the pasture behind the Conner Barn. All too often, I am so focused on my computer screen or on the person sitting in the chair next to my desk that I forget to look outside. Just before the holidays, a colleague walked into my office and asked if I had looked outside recently. I had not. When I raised my head, I saw families trudging through snow, stopping to look at animals, engaging with costumed staff and even throwing a snowball or two. It was December 21st, Conner Prairie’s FREE day
, part of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association’s 12 Free Days of Indy Christmas. More than 3,000 people crowded into Conner Prairie, having a terrific time both outdoors on the historic grounds and indoors -- families and groups of adults experiencing and learning about history, the arts, science and each other. This year Conner Prairie attendance grew by 15% over attendance in 2009 – a remarkable measure of success.
This specific incident tells you a lot about my day-to-day life at Conner Prairie and about how we now measure success. I am charged with keeping Conner Prairie sustainable – balancing the budget even though funds are tight, raising money and attending functions. I represented Conner Prairie at the White House on December 17th to receive the National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services
, one of only five awarded in 2010. But what keeps me going is the thought that year after year Conner Prairie is getting better at fulfilling its mission of “inspiring curiosity and fostering learning.”
In 2011, we will open 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana
just in time for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. We’ve worked very hard to make the central immersion experience one that entire families can experience together. I hope that parents will use this exhibit as a moment to talk to children about their values and that teachers will use the exhibit to blow history dust off the Civil War. But for those who choose to avoid the subject, a marvelous children’s outdoor and indoor play area
will be available. I suspect it will become a favorite among our members. With the opening of the exhibit, we will also be reaching out to those who cannot come to the museum, adding historical information to the tremendous wealth of research already on the website.
There will be other new programs and activities to announce this year. I will not attempt to catalogue them now. Suffice to say, they will be intended to reach out and engage families, school children, and adults in great, fun learning experiences. If at the end of the year, I look up from my computer to find Conner Prairie continuing to delight ever-increasing audiences, I will feel we have been successful.