EYE ON THE PIE: We need more leaders like this guy

A friend and I were having lunch. We were talking about an old issue: the lack of leadership in the state.

Both of us agreed that Mitch Daniels has been doing a good job in following through on what he promised, whether or not folks liked it. But we were hard-pressed to find other examples of civic or political leadership. I suspect our problem may have been one of age.

We’re guys who have been around for the past four decades. We know lots of people, but many of them are not active in community affairs any longer. It could be that our perception is defective. Or we could be right.

Leadership may be in short supply in Indiana today. We no longer have local bankers to lead fund drives. The titans of local retail trade report to regional managers. We continue to be a branch plant state, but the home office is now as likely to be in Japan as in Michigan.

The Rotary, Kiwanis, Optimists and other civic groups are not the same powerhouses of influence they were in the past. Communications have changed dramatically with the rise of the personal computer, the Internet and the cell phone. People complain of not having time for meetings. Yet they can board a plane for a weekend vacation elsewhere on the continent.

Nonetheless, new leadership does arise. Often, it is not from the corps of people who have grown up in our communities. Leadership increasingly is found among those who have come to Indiana as adults, as professionals with perspective on this Hoosier Holyland gained from experience elsewhere.

Barry Dressel seems to be such a leader. He came to Indiana after experience in Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland and the British West Indies. Today, he is the energetic and imaginative director of the Indiana State Museum.

Dressel sees the museum (and its 12 associated historical sites) as a statewide resource focused on the future. Where others see museums as resting places for artifacts of the past, Dressel recognizes how the past is linked to the future through the prism of the present.

Thus, we find Dressel intent on discovering what’s new in manufacturing within Indiana today and how those activities are leading us from our strengths in the past to our capabilities for the future. Where other state museums may limit their vision to history, Dressel projects an “Indiana State Museum [that] integrates science, fine arts and history.”

Under Dressel’s leadership, we may expect a state museum that will easily bridge the imagined gap between archeology and aerospace. In addition, through partnerships with museums in every corner of the state, the Indiana State Museum will develop a network of exhibitions, publications and presentations that will add value for all of us.

To achieve this vision, Dressel knows the Indiana State Museum must seek funding beyond the $10 million annual budget now available from the General Assembly. This means a vigorous program to raise private support in an environment that may be difficult.

Most Hoosiers are unaware of the Indiana State Museum. If they think of it at all, they may confuse it with the Indiana Historical Society or confine it to their thoughts of Indianapolis. But Barry Dressel wants to change that by bringing the museum out of its walls into communities statewide.

We may expect to find that the state museum of the future will be one of the state’s great assets, appreciated by visitors and beloved by Hoosiers everywhere.

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at [email protected]

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