Academic Training and Early Career
Even before becoming president and CEO of The Children’s Museum in June 1999, Dr. Jeffrey H. Patchen was no stranger to Indianapolis and its cultural institutions. A graduate of Ithaca College, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education, and Indiana University, where he received a doctorate in music education with a minor in business, Patchen started his career as a music teacher in upstate New York before becoming the state arts consultant at the Indiana Department of Education, a position he held from 1984 to 1990. During that time he worked with schools throughout Indiana to encourage and advance the importance of the arts as basic skills.
In 1990 Patchen moved to the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga where he held the nation’s first endowed chair in arts education, a position he retained until 1996 when he moved to The Getty Institute for the Arts in Los Angeles to become senior program officer for national programs.
Leadership of The Children’s Museum
After three years at The Getty, Patchen returned to Indianapolis to head The Children’s Museum. It was a chance to bring all of his interests and experience to bear in single place. “I was attracted to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because The Children’s Museum brings together all of the things I care about in my professional life: children and families, learning and teaching, the sciences, arts, and humanities, innovation, and community development,” Patchen said in an article in the September/October 1999 issue of Newseum, the museum’s members magazine.
Family Learning Focus
Over the course of his tenure, Patchen has led the museum down new paths, starting with refocusing its mission from serving children to serving children and families. That was coupled with an emphasis on family learning, an educational philosophy that stresses the value of exhibits and programs that encourage children and adults alike to immerse themselves and participate together in hands-on activities and to talk about what they’re experiencing.
One addition to the museum that helped families extend their learning experiences is infoZone. Opened in December 2000, InfoZone is a cooperative venture between the museum and the Indianapolis Public Library system. It was the nation’s first—and today remains the only—full-service public library branch inside a museum. The museum and the Indianapolis Public Library conducted joint fundraising to establish a $3.6 million operating endowment for InfoZone.
He reorganized the museum to streamline its operations and make better use of the staff’s talents and skills, and spearheaded the three largest capital campaigns in museum history. The first was a $57-million effort that led to the creation of Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World®, as well as a new parking garage, elevated walkway, expanded storage for the permanent collection, expanded dining facilities, and improvements to the surrounding neighborhood. The second, $74-million campaign resulted in a new Welcome Center, with an extension of the elevated walkway inside the building, a new off-street passenger drop-off area, an expanded permanent space for the Guild’s annual Haunted House, expansion and renovation of the Mildred Compton School Services wing, and new permanent exhibits including Fireworks of Glass, The Power of Children: Making a Difference®, Take Me There: Egypt®, and National Geographic Treasures of the Earth.
The third—the $71.1 million Extraordinary Transformations Campaign—is currently under way. It comprises four intitiatives:
- Become a national model for health and family fitness
- Continue enhancing transformative family learning
- Advance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs and experiences for all ages
- Provide education and career opportunities and guidance to the people of the Mid-North neighborhoods
Goals of the campaign are being fulfilled with exhibits like Beyond Spaceship Earth and Dow AgroSciences ScienceWorks, experiences like the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience, and programs like The Heritage Group Center for Family Learning in STEM and the Old National Bank Mid-North Promise Program.
In addition to developing several traveling exhibits that have toured (and in many cases, continue to tour) North America, the museum has broadened its international reach, forming partnerships with other institutions in Egypt, China, Jordan, The Netherlands, and Canada. It has developed exhibits in cooperation with the National Geographic Society, Nickelodeon, Mattel, Inc., HIT Entertainment, LEGO Systems, Inc., and Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. The museum’s relationship with the latter, for example, led to it being one of the very few U.S. venues to host the 2009 exhibit Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharoahs, which featured some artifacts that had never before been displayed in the United States. In 2014, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis was the only place to see China's famous Terra Cotta Warriors as the museum developed and presented Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor's Painted Army, directly from China's Shaanxi Province—an exhibit made possible through the museum's partnerships with the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center.
Such relationships not only help build awareness of the museum and the skilled expertise and experience it has to offer other institutions abroad, they also provide the museum with access to artifacts and information that allow it to continue developing innovative exhibits and programs.
At the same time, Patchen and the board have encouraged the strengthening of relationships with the central Indiana community and the museum’s neighbors, providing programs for the children who live nearby and investing in improvements such as landscaping, signage and home repairs, renovations, and construction. The museum is also serving as the facilitator for the development and implementation of a Mid-North Neighborhoods Quality of Life Plan, and recently oversaw redevelopment of the former Winona Hospital site contiguous to the museum's campus.
Regularly breaking previously existing annual attendance records, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has become one of the best-known children’s museums in the world and one of the 25 most-visited museums in the U.S. It often hosts visitors from other institutions who come to learn how it has achieved so much in a city where few expect to find a world-class museum (despite the fact that there are several). But Patchen and the trustees aren’t content to allow the museum to coast on its reputation: excellence is a constantly expanding goal at the world’s biggest and best children’s museum, and they continue to pursue it every day.