Indiana State Museum hopes for new start

The Indiana State Museum starts a new fiscal year Friday with a different governance structure and a $1.1 million surplus.

A new state law created the Indiana State Museum Board, which will merge operations of the museum and 11 historic sites around the state with the existing private Indiana State Museum Foundation.

CEO Tom King pushed for the new, quasi-governmental structure as a way to address high turnover in the CEO's office and a lack of fundraising, which has plagued the museum as state funding continues to decline.

The museum's 128 employees will retain state-employee benefits, but they will no longer be on the payroll of the Department of Natural Resources. The new board will have 13 members appointed by the governor and 12 appointed by the board. Bill Browne, founder of Indianapolis-based Ratio Architects Inc., will remain as board chairman.

Most of the financial surplus, about $600,000, comes from last holiday season's Titanic exhibit, which was a late addition to the museum's exhibition schedule, but drew large crowds.

"Even if most of it was due to luck, you feel like you're making progress," King said.

Most of the money will be spent paying down previous deficits, about $500,000 in 2009 and $100,000 last year, King said. The remainder will go toward a new exhibit-acquisition fund. That way, the museum can take advantage of opportunities like the Titanic exhibit as they arise, he said.

Gov. Mitch Daniels recruited King, a former president of the Eli Lilly and Co. Foundation, out of semi-retirement in January 2010 to lead a turnaround. Barry Dressel, the museum's fifth CEO since 2000, resigned abruptly in October of 2009.

King, who is no longer considered interim, said he'll stay in the post at least through the 2012 Super Bowl. "I'd like to leave here with at least a $5 million surplus," he said.

The museum has no endowment, and state funding continues to decline. In the fiscal year just ended, the state provided $8.2 million for the museum and historic sites, while the foundation earned about $3 million.

In the new fiscal year, King said state funding is about $7.6 million.

King expects to take in $1.5 million to $2 million through museum admissions, events and other "earned" revenue and another $1.5 million to $2 million in gifts and grants.

This year's exhibition schedule includes "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition," which opens in October, and "Amazing Maize: The Science, History and Culture of Corn," opening in September. Shackleton is a traveling show, while museum staff created Amazing Maize.

Much of the museum's broad collection is in natural history, and that work continues. King said the museum is trying to acquire land in Posey County around the "Mann" site, a rich source of American Indian artifacts from the Hopewell era.

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