The Indiana Historical Society will pilot a series of interactive history lessons at its Indiana History Center next year before closing the facility for most of 2009 to make it more visitor-friendly.
The break also will allow staff to fine-tune the new programming, part of a $23.8-million initiative dubbed "The Indiana Experience." Leaders hope the changes will help the 177-year-old organization attract a new generation of visitors.
Historical Society supporters learned of the plan – and a $23.8-million fund-raising campaign to finance it – at the local not-for-profit's annual Founders Day Dinner this evening.
"We wanted to give people an in-depth and engaging Indiana experience," said CEO John Herbst. "What we're proposing now will do that."
First up: a two-day musical extravaganza featuring music of Hoosier legend Cole Porter. The Feb. 14-15 event is a precursor to "Anything Goes," an ongoing post-renovation program that will immerse visitors in a 1940s nightclub where they can learn about and dance to Porter's music.
The other new offerings will have a longer run before the construction begins.
– In "You Are There," visitors will get the chance to step – literally – into some of the 1.6 million historic photographs in Historical Society archives. Costumed interpreters will interact with guests in three-dimensional re-creations of specific photos, starting in April with a 1945 Terre Haute grocery store scene.
– At "Destination Indiana," a computerized time-travel program will allow visitors to navigate back and forth through a particular region's history through photographs. By August, guests will be able to watch the Indianapolis downtown skyline emerge; ultimately, Herbst wants to have options from all 92 counties.
– The History Lab/Investigation Stations will start in April, giving visitors a look at how history is uncovered. Staff at individual stations will invite guests to examine historic photos to find clues, use vital records to research their family histories and analyze various documents.
– Beginning in February, three installments of the Indiana Town Hall Series will offer an historic perspective on current hot topics such as immigration reform.
"We're providing people with a highly facilitated, almost boutique kind of experience," Herbst said.
Founded in 1830, the Indiana Historical Society moved into its Indiana History Center headquarters downtown in 1999. The facility houses a state-of-the-art climate-controlled research library and archives, in addition to a theater, gallery and event space.
Special programs and events – including those staged by organizations, including 14 performing arts groups that use the theater – attract about 150,000 visitors a year. Still, Herbst wants the building to become a destination for people other than researchers. He started working on the plan not long after joining the society in September 2006.
"There was a realization on the part of the board that we could do more with the facility," he said.
About $14 million has been raised for the project already, including $8 million from local philanthropists Eugene and Marilyn Glick. To acknowledge their gift, the building will be renamed the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center.