From inception, the museum has never seen itself as insulated from its community. The fact that it regarded itself as an integral part of that community is evident in its identity—to the designation “The Children’s Museum” its founders added “of Indianapolis.”
As it has grown over the decades, becoming the largest museum of its type in the world and collaborating with organizations across the globe, it has remained committed to serving its home base above all else. It began with the schools.
There has always been a connection between the museum and local schools. Mary Carey, who conceived of and helped organize the museum, also was involved with Orchard Country Day School (now The Orchard School), a private school that counts two of Carey’s daughters among its founders.
What’s more, two of the people Carey recruited to join her as museum founders were employed by Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS)—Florence Fitch, director of art instruction, and Murray Dalman, director of the reference and research department. Their participation ensured access to the public school system for purposes of selling student memberships to the museum and encouraging student participation in museum activities, including its junior service clubs and junior board, which consisted of several youngsters who served as ad hoc members of the board of trustees.
But the relationship with IPS went much further. In 1931 the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill allowing IPS to provide up to $5,000 in annual funding to the museum. In return the museum lent cases full of exhibit materials to the schools, a practice that grew out of the fact that its staff and trustees saw the museum as a valuable educational resource that could supplement classroom lessons.
Over the years the relationship between the museum and area schools has broadened. As first IPS, then later outlying school districts grew, so did the demand for museum tours, resource materials, and programs. While school systems initially had to pay annual stipends to help cover school outreach expenses, that is no longer true.
Today The Children’s Museum relies more on grants and school membership and admission fees than annual payments from school systems to offset the costs of providing on-site services for more than 70,000 students and teachers each year, as well as outreach programs for thousands more. It also provides professional development workshops and networking opportunities for teachers, as well as classroom resource materials related to its exhibits.
Being a good neighbor means caring about the quality of life for everyone in the immediate community. That’s something that has been important to the museum for years. But in 2001 it invested directly in its surroundings, creating a Neighborhood Improvement Fund that included a $2-million revolving loan fund and additional resources to help finance collaborative neighborhood projects.
The first major project undertaken with support from the Fund was improvement of the 29th and 30th Street corridor in 2004. A partnership among the museum, the City of Indianapolis, and the State of Indiana led to upgrading the streets and sidewalks in the area, improved lighting and traffic signals, and a neighborhood gateway.
Also in 2004 the museum adopted The Children’s Museum District Plan, an ongoing effort that involves housing rehabilitation and new construction along streets bordering the museum property. In partnership with the Near North Development Corporation and with financing from the Neighborhood Improvement Fund, as well as federal, state and local government sources and financial institutions, the museum led an effort that has, to date, resulted in the rehabilitation and construction of 40 homes, demolition of 50 vacant properties, and repair assistance for 100 houses. The museum recently entered into a similar partnership with the Mapleton Fall Creek Development Corporation, which has resulted in development of four homes in a new housing development totaling 20 homes.
Quality of Life Plan
The success of its neighborhood improvement efforts led the Local Initiative Support Corporation to choose The Children’s Museum to convene a new project—the development of a Quality of Life Plan for the six neighborhoods compromising the area of Indianapolis known as Mid-North. Those neighborhoods include Crown Hill, Highland Vicinity, Historic Meridian Park, Mapleton-Fall Creek, Meridian Highland, and Historic Watson Park. In 2010 the museum, Ivy Tech, area business owners, and residents began meeting to discuss the planning process. Reaching out to all segments of the Mid-North community, the planning team solicited input about what people regarded as the assets and strengths of the area as well as what needed to be improved.
The results of that survey became the basis for the collaborative identification of the key issues, priorities, and visions shared by the majority of the neighborhoods’ stakeholders. Teams formed to develop goals and strategies that became the basis for a final community-approved and community-directed quality of life plan.
The result to date has been a variety of initiatives within the six neighborhoods funded by grants—all the result of the careful thought and communitywide input that went into developing viable projects.
Winona Hospital Site Redevelopment
One of those projects was the redevelopment of a neighborhood liability—Winona Hospital, contiguous to the museum campus. Closed in 2004, it sat vacant and deteriorating, becoming a neighborhood eyesore and safety hazard.
The Children’s Museum of Indiana took an active role in advocating for redevelopment of the Winona property and—by holding public meetings, receiving grants to conduct environmental studies of the site, and by writing proposals to the City of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana seeking funds to demolish the hospital and redevelop the site—positioned itself as a committed partner in managing the positive future of the site.
In October 2011, seven years after the closure of Winona, the City of Indianapolis began demolition and environmental cleanup of the site using $1.3 million in HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP3) and Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) funds.
The City then charged The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis with oversight of the property’s redevelopment. TRex Enterprises, LLC, a company formed at the request of the museum, developed a master plan for the site and issued a Request for Proposals in early 2012 with the proposal from TWG Development LLC being selected. Ground for Illinois Place was broken in October 2012 and the complex opened in December 2013.
It is just the sort of project the museum was happy to help with, said president and CEO Jeffrey Patchen at the Winona demolition launch ceremony on Oct. 10, 2011. “We are pleased and delighted to play a role in transforming what has been an eyesore and safety concern in our neighborhood into a community asset.”
Other Community Partners
Given its focus on family learning, the museum has forged relationships that allow it to serve children and families in a variety of ways.
- Indiana Department of Child Services: Through this agency, which licenses foster parents, the museum created its Foster Family Program that provides free one-year museum memberships to licensed Indiana foster parents and their families.
- Target: Funding from this international retailer permits the museum to offer free admission 12 times a year on the first Thursday night each month.
- Indianapolis Public Library: The Children’s Museum is the only museum in the country with an on-site full-service public library—InfoZone. It provides an array of resources to neighborhood children and families, including computer access to those who might not have it at home.
- Colleges and universities: The museum provides internship opportunities to students from throughout the United States and around the world. In 2012, the museum’s internship program was named one of the Top 10 nonprofit internships programs in the country by Vault, an international company that specializes in providing information for professionals and students seeking high-potential careers.
Other Community Programs
Some of the museum’s community-centered efforts are programs provided to make sure everyone who wants access to the museum has a way of getting it.
- Access Pass Program: Created as a way to provide low-income families with low-cost ($1) admission to the museum, this program is available to anyone receiving state assistance, such as food stamps, Hoosier Healthwise Insurance, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
- The Children’s Museum Neighborhood Club: Established in 1994 as the 30/34 Club, this program provides free museum memberships to all families living in any of the six Mid-North neighborhoods.
- StarPoint: Founded in 1986 this program offers an affordable, curriculum-based summer program for children in the surrounding neighborhoods.
- The Museum Apprentice Program (MAP): A free program for young people ages 13 to 18, MAP introduces participants to the arts, sciences, and humanities in a real work environment.