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LEADING QUESTIONS: Conner Prairie CEO on missteps, 'The Matrix'

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Leading Questions

Welcome back to IBJ’s new video feature, “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office.” Every week, we sit down with one of central Indiana’s top bosses and talk shop about the characteristics of an effective head honcho.

Ellen Rosenthal, president and CEO of Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, has herded the 19th-century-themed museum through the 21st century's big recession while staying on budget and increasing attendance. She wasn't always so sure-footed, however. In the video below,  she reveals the biggest misstep in her museum career. She also holds forth on fund raising in tough times and what advice she would offer young women today as they embark on careers.



Ironically, this keeper of historical customs and conventions is a big fan of science fiction. In the bonus video below, Rosenthal geeks out on author Neil Gaiman and "Star Wars," and finds surprising links between Conner Prairie and "The Matrix."

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  • Silly
    @ Not Sad: Don't assume that people who disagree with your assessment of Conner Prairie's current state "can't deal with change." You're speculating. I don't like CP's new direction a single bit, but don't deign to assume that, just because we disagree, you should be excluded. I'm glad that you can enjoy it. I can't. On second thought, I guess I will just stay home.
  • Not Sad
    With our membership, Conner Prairie was kind enough to send 4 free tickets to the balloon ride. I do not agree that they have become too commercial. I believe they are improving. Some people seem not to be able to deal with change and thus should just stay at home. We could have picked a zoo membership but my kids and I go to Conner Prairie about every weekend. It is a GREAT deal. There is something new to experience each time.
    • Change
      I strongly feel Conner Prairie is heading in the right direction. As an outsider, it appears as though there is a strong commitment to the future by providing new and exciting interactive history lessons, while keeping their eye on the past and what Conner Prairie stands for.

      I recently became a member based on all of the exciting events and exhibits they have which appeal to myself, my children and my parents all in different ways. I am excited for new exhibits in the future which will give me a reason to re-visit and see whats changed.

      History shows any organization which doesn't change and embrace the future clearly gets forgotten in the past.
    • Change
      I strongly feel Conner Prairie is heading in the right direction. As an outsider, it appears as though there is a strong commitment to the future by providing new and exciting interactive history lessons, while keeping their eye on the past and what Conner Prairie stands for.

      I recently became a member based on all of the exciting events and exhibits they have which appeal to myself, my children and my parents all in different ways. I am excited for new exhibits in the future which will give me a reason to re-visit and see whats changed.

      History shows any organization which doesn't change and embrace the future clearly gets forgotten in the past.
    • Thank you for your feedback
      I'm truly sorry to hear you feel this way however, Conner Prairie must evolve in order to thrive into the future. Our first
      person interpretation in Prairietown remains at the heart of what we do. Attendance declines and subsequent audience research
      in the mid-1990s told us that many people felt one visit to Conner Prairie sufficed for a lifetime. Beginning about ten years
      ago we began to add new experiences to encourage repeat visits. We added 1816 Lenape Camp, 1886 Liberty Corner and then last
      year 1859 Balloon Voyage, which tells an important story of early Indiana aviation history while offering a great immersive
      experience. At the same time as we add new experiences, we continue to make changes to and improve 1836 Prairietown.

      I am always disappointed to loose a long-standing member and would be happy to talk to you about Conner Prairie's future
      direction if you'd like to call me. Thank you for your feedback.

      Ellen M. Rosenthal
      President and CEO, Conner Prairie

    • Wonderful comments
      I love Ms. Rosenthal's enthusiasm for her work. Even more, her enthusiasm for people is engaging. I appreciate that she is trying changes, keeping Conner Prairie from getting too stale. I'm a brand-new member because I can see new life being breathed into this Indiana landmark.
    • CP article
      I totally identify with SAD's comments. I, too, have let my long-time membership lapse for the same reason.
    • Ruined
      With the addition of the balloon and other things within the park that cost money, I feel that Conner Prairie has become too comercial. I used to love going there and feeling like I had truely stepped back into the 1800's. Because of the changes, I let my membership lapse last year (I was a long time member) and have no intention of ever going back. I know the operation needs to make money to support the museum, but the whole look and feel changed with the recent additions. I am sorry to see this happen. There are many who will be willing to pay the price and will still enjoy it, so Ms. Rosenthal will not miss my membership. I just wonder if there are others that feel the same way.

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      1. Cramer agrees...says don't buy it and sell it if you own it! Their "pay to play" cost is this issue. As long as they charge customers, they never will attain the critical mass needed to be a successful on company...Jim Cramer quote.

      2. My responses to some of the comments would include the following: 1. Our offer which included the forgiveness of debt (this is an immediate forgiveness and is not "spread over many years")represents debt that due to a reduction of interest rates in the economy arguably represents consideration together with the cash component of our offer that exceeds the $2.1 million apparently offered by another party. 2. The previous $2.1 million cash offer that was turned down by the CRC would have netted the CRC substantially less than $2.1 million. As a result even in hindsight the CRC was wise in turning down that offer. 3. With regard to "concerned Carmelite's" discussion of the previous financing Pedcor gave up $16.5 million in City debt in addition to the conveyance of the garage (appraised at $13 million)in exchange for the $22.5 million cash and debt obligations. The local media never discussed the $16.5 million in debt that we gave up which would show that we gave $29.5 million in value for the $23.5 million. 4.Pedcor would have been much happier if Brian was still operating his Deli and only made this offer as we believe that we can redevelop the building into something that will be better for the City and City Center where both Pedcor the citizens of Carmel have a large investment. Bruce Cordingley, President, Pedcor

      3. I've been looking for news on Corner Bakery, too, but there doesn't seem to be any info out there. I prefer them over Panera and Paradise so can't wait to see where they'll be!

      4. WGN actually is two channels: 1. WGN Chicago, seen only in Chicago (and parts of Canada) - this station is one of the flagship CW affiliates. 2. WGN America - a nationwide cable channel that doesn't carry any CW programming, and doesn't have local affiliates. (In addition, as WGN is owned by Tribune, just like WTTV, WTTK, and WXIN, I can't imagine they would do anything to help WISH.) In Indianapolis, CW programming is already seen on WTTV 4 and WTTK 29, and when CBS takes over those stations' main channels, the CW will move to a sub channel, such as 4.2 or 4.3 and 29.2 or 29.3. TBS is only a cable channel these days and does not affiliate with local stations. WISH could move the MyNetwork affiliation from WNDY 23 to WISH 8, but I am beginning to think they may prefer to put together their own lineup of syndicated programming instead. While much of it would be "reruns" from broadcast or cable, that's pretty much what the MyNetwork does these days anyway. So since WISH has the choice, they may want to customize their lineup by choosing programs that they feel will garner better ratings in this market.

      5. The Pedcor debt is from the CRC paying ~$23M for the Pedcor's parking garage at City Center that is apprased at $13M. Why did we pay over the top money for a private businesses parking? What did we get out of it? Pedcor got free parking for their apartment and business tenants. Pedcor now gets another building for free that taxpayers have ~$3M tied up in. This is NOT a win win for taxpayers. It is just a win for Pedcor who contributes heavily to the Friends of Jim Brainard. The campaign reports are on the Hamilton County website. http://www2.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/publicdocs/Campaign%20Finance%20Images/defaultfiles.asp?ARG1=Campaign Finance Images&ARG2=/Brainard, Jim

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