Wednesday, July 17, 2024

A matter of community

By Tom King


It has been my good fortune over the years to have jobs that allowed me to be involved in the city and state I love. Whether it was serving as president of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, my tenure as president of the Eli Lilly and Company Foundation or now, as president of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, I have been able to pursue my overall goal of building on the strengths that Indiana already possesses and creating improvements that help our state fulfill its potential.

As the CEO of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, I don’t know many other professionals who, in the course of an average day, get to experience as wide a range of things as I do. It’s not unusual for me to discuss fossilized shark vomit from Pike County, community outreach, the conservation of a T.C. Steele painting and how to keep field trips free for Hoosier students — all before lunch.

When I come in to work every day, the first thing I notice is the remarkable architecture of the museum. It’s a beautiful place to be and full of exciting stories to explore. We’re currently undergoing major construction projects in several of our core galleries, which will enable us to tell the fascinating story of Indiana, through real artifacts, in a more interactive way than ever before. In addition to these changes at the museum, we’re making improvements at our 11 historic sites across the state as we celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial year and look forward to the next 200 years of statehood.

One of my favorite improvements in the work being done at the historic sites is the creation of a $3.2 million Interpretive Center at the Levi Coffin State Historic Site in Fountain City, Indiana. Levi and Catharine Coffin were Quaker merchants who, between 1826 and 1846, sheltered more than 1,000 freedom seekers as they made their journey to Canada as part of the Underground Railroad. This interpretive center will allow many more Hoosiers to learn about the work of the Coffins, as well as the stories of those who made the journey to freedom.

All of our historic sites are unique, and together they do such a great job of telling the story of the Hoosier state. Through our sites and exhibitions like “Amazing Maize,” which tells the story of the important Hoosier crop, corn; “Art Meets News,” about Hoosier photojournalist Bill Foley; and “Ice Age Giants,” which highlighted our remarkable collection of mammoth and mastodon remains from Indiana’s Pleistocene era, we’re able to show Indiana as it was, is, and could be.

The ISMHS is dedicated to fulfilling our mission to celebrate, explore and steward all that is authentically wondrous about Indiana. To that end, I — along with the dedicated staff of the ISMHS — am working hard to maintain and expand our collection of artifacts, create interesting and informative experiences and exhibitions for our visitors and the Hoosiers we serve, and making sure that everyone has access to us. From creating a fund that gives Indiana k-12 school groups free admission to our museum and historic sites, to expanding our outreach offerings, the idea that we are telling the stories that define us as a state is of great importance to me.

It has been my privilege to serve our community in several capacities before taking my current role at the ISMHS. I recently completed stints as chair of the board of the Indiana Sports Corporation, Goodwill Foundation of Central Indiana, Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana and the Benjamin Harrison Home Foundation, and I currently serve as chair of the board of the Center for Leadership Development and as president of the Arthur Jordan Foundation. All of these organizations — as well as my work within them — are focused on creating the economic and community vitality that help make Indiana a great place to live and work.

My role at the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites has provided me with a unique opportunity and platform to not only create the sort of inclusive community-building and involvement that have been so important to me throughout my career, but also to preserve this story of these and other changes that have happened throughout Indiana’s history. Maintaining this material record for future generations of Hoosiers has proven to be some of the most challenging and rewarding work of my career. I’m excited about the future of the ISMHS, and I’m even more excited about the future of Indiana.


Tom King is president and CEO of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.

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