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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. If I were a developer I would be looking at the Fountain Square and Fletcher Place neighborhoods instead of Broad Ripple. I would avoid the dysfunctional BRVA with all of their headaches. It's like deciding between a Blackberry or an iPhone 5s smartphone. BR is greatly in need of updates. It has become stale and outdated. Whereas Fountain Square, Fletcher Place and Mass Ave have become the "new" Broad Ripples. Every time I see people on the strip in BR on the weekend I want to ask them, "How is it you are not familiar with Fountain Square or Mass Ave? You have choices and you choose BR?" Long vacant storefronts like the old Scholar's Inn Bake House and ZA, both on prominent corners, hurt the village's image. Many business on the strip could use updated facades. Cigarette butt covered sidewalks and graffiti covered walls don't help either. The whole strip just looks like it needs to be power washed. I know there is more to the BRV than the 700-1100 blocks of Broad Ripple Ave, but that is what people see when they think of BR. It will always be a nice place live, but is quickly becoming a not-so-nice place to visit.

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