For The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis forging relationships with foreign institutions is a give-and-take affair. On one hand it is a means of gaining access to artifacts, expertise, and perspectives that would otherwise be unavailable, while on the other it is a way to raise international awareness of the museum and the wealth of information, talent, and expertise it has to offer.
While the past decade has seen a surge in international relationships, the museum has a long tradition of reaching out around the world. Within a few years of its founding it was developing exhibits focused on other countries and cultures, and its second director Grace Golden (director 1942–1964) also travelled abroad, a practice that allowed her to spread the word about the museum in places such as Hungary, Iceland, and Mexico. Golden also was one of six American museum representatives that the International Council of Museums chose to work with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on problems confronting museums around the world.
Subsequently, directors Mildred Compton (director 1964–1982) and Peter Sterling (director 1982–1999) continued to foster the museum’s international reputation and relationships. While Compton’s focus was on solidifying the museum’s credentials through such means as professional accreditation (first achieved in 1971) and construction of world-class facilities (opened in 1976), Sterling aimed for greater recognition through such means as Frank and Theresa Caplan’s donation of the world’s largest private collection of toys and folk art—50,000 objects from 120 countries—and the subsequent opening of the Passport to the World exhibit. It was also during Sterling’s tenure that the museum hosted both the first international Congress on Learning in Museums, which elevated its visibility among museum professionals worldwide, and an exhibit of artworks by six Latin American artists during the 1987 Pan American Games, which were held in Indianapolis.
With Dr. Jeffrey Patchen’s arrival in 1999, the museum actively began to build relationships with other research, educational, and cultural organizations around the world. Today those relationships extend from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo to the Children’s City in Dubai and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing. According to Dr. Patchen, the museum’s international relationships “enable us . . . to achieve our vision of being recognized as the global leader among all museums and cultural institutions serving children and their families.”
That vision was manifested in the museum’s Take Me There:® Egypt exhibit. Opened in 2009, it focused on life in contemporary Egypt, with displays that featured typical dwellings, markets, foods, toys, and cultural and historical attractions. The exhibit was the result of five years of planning and the cooperation of Egyptian officials and cultural institutions. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities also gave museum staff extraordinary access to ancient Egyptian sites including the Tomb of Seti I, a focal point of the museum’s permanent exhibit National Geographic Treasures of the Earth, which opened in 2011.
The museum’s relationships with the Anne Frank House and the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam helped with development of the Anne Frank portion of The Power of Children exhibit, as well as Anne Frank Peace Park outside the museum’s front entrance. And its relationships with various Chinese museums and research institutes have assisted its dinosaur research and displays in Dinosphere: Now You’re in Their World, as well as the development of Take Me There: China, which opened in 2014.
The museum also serves as a consultant to other institutions around the world. In Saudia Arabia it has an ongoing relationship with the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and Children’s Discovery Zone in Dhahran; in Jordan it has the same relationship with the National Children’s Museum in Amman and in the United Arab Emirates with Children’s City in Dubai.
As of June 2014 the full list of organizations with which the museum maintains relationships worldwide included:
- Anne Frank House: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Beijing International Education Exchange: Beijing, China
- China Fossil Preservation Foundation: Beijing, China
- Children’s City: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
- Children’s Museum of Civilization and Creativity: Cairo, Egypt
- Cui Puppet Theatre: Beijing, China
- Guangzhou Children’s Museum and Palace: Guangzhou, China
- Hanban Institute: Beijing, China
- Henan Geological Museum: Zhengzhou, China
- Giant Panda Breeding Center: Chengdu, China
- Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, China Academy of Sciences: Beijing, China
- King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture and Children’s Discovery Zone: Dhahran, Saudia Arabia
- Lufeng Dinosaur Research Center: Lufeng, China
- Ministry of Culture, Kingdom of Bahrain: Manama, Bahrain
- Ministry of Culture: Beijing, China
- Museum of Natural History: Beijing, China
- National Children’s Museum: Amman, Jordan
- Office of Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Catherine: Belgrade, Serbia
- Office HRH Princess Sirindhorn: Bangkok, Thailand
- Office of Vice Premier Liu Yandon: Beijing, China
- Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center: Xi'an, China
- Shaanxi Cultural Relics Bureau: Xi'an, China
- Shaanxi Regional History Museum: Xi’an, China
- Supreme Council of Antiquities: Cairo, Egypt
- Terra Cotta Warrior Museum and Institute: Xi’an, China
- Tropenmuseum: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Xi’an Municipal Museum: Xi’an, China