Indiana Must Plan Now for a Quality Bicentennial
For release noon Jan. 19 and thereafter (891 words with optional trim to 670)
Ohio, the last state to mark a bicentennial, spent a decade on planning and poured $16 million of taxpayer money into an elaborate year-long celebration in 2003. Among the highlights: painting bicentennial logos on barns in all 88 counties, a Tall Stacks riverboat party on the Ohio River and publication of a series of books on Ohio history. Politicians, schools and historical associations had roles under the leadership of a bicentennial commission funded by the legislature. By all accounts, their bicentennial was a huge success.
The moral of this story? Indiana needs to step up planning for our bicentennial celebration in 2016. Although a preliminary effort is underway headed by State Archivist Jim Corridan, it will need statutory authority from the legislature, a formal defining of roles among the state’s disconnected history-related agencies and an infusion of tax dollars.
“We’re proceeding fine,” reports Corridan who acknowledges that “at some point a more formal organization” will be necessary. For now, his Historic Collaborations Group is working to produce a specialty license plate in 2011 whose proceeds would help fund the bicentennial. Hiring a staff person would be a priority.
The challenge is to create a coordinated planning process that avoids duplication of effort and energy. That’s no easy task considering six different agencies of Indiana government are involved with historic sites, records or preservation. Legislation to put them under a single roof has not advanced in the past and won’t be considered again until 2011 at the soonest. In the meantime, Corridan has brought together as many state and not-profit folks as he can to offer input.
What would an appropriate celebration look like? And what entity is best suited to claim the planning process? Those are pressing decision that cannot wait long. A survey by The Indiana Policy Review elicited a variety of answers and good ideas.
- Tom King, interim president and CEO, Indiana State Museum — “It will be a hard challenge to top the centennial celebration that was held in 1916. Every Indiana town and community held regal parades, pageants and events with political speakers throughout the year. We certainly hope to see similar Hoosier pride proclaimed during the bicentennial across Indiana in cities, towns and rural communities, i.e. a series of programs, re-enactments, and portrayals of what a Hoosier is and why we love being one. The Indiana State Museum will be working with other agencies and communities as it develops an exhibition that will open in Indianapolis, be available to travel to points around the state, and programs that will highlight Indiana’s 200-year progress and change.”
- Pamela J. Bennett, director, Indiana Historical Bureau (IHC) — “From prior commemorations, I believe that some elements for an appropriate celebration should remain constant, such as: statewide and inclusive; involve schools and higher education, governments, arts/cultural/heritage organizations, business, etc.; stimulate a deeper understanding of Indiana’s and Hoosiers’ significant contributions in the past and potential for the future; have positive economic impacts; focus on activities, products, etc. that have lasting value … No one agency or organization can ‘claim’ the bicentennial. Rather, the commemoration must be guided by a collaborative entity such as a commission.”
- John A. Herbst, president and CEO, Indiana Historical Society — “I think that the state bicentennial observations should include long-term legacy projects as well as community and statewide celebrations. Two ideas I would put forth worthy of 2016 legacy projects would be helping local historical organizations throughout the state better preserve and present their own area’s history and improving and assisting teachers to teach state and local history more effectively. On Feb. 12, the Indiana Humanities Council and the Indiana Historical Society are convening a number of stakeholders at the IHC to discuss what efforts we should be taking to get the ball rolling since 2016 will be here before we know it. “
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- J. Stewart Goodwin, executive director, Indiana War Memorial — “I believe it would be interesting to have general accomplishments published that have been achieved throughout the state broken down into categories such as public service, industry, education, etc. Our area of interest would be the military/veterans and the many things they have contributed to not only the recent war efforts in terrorism but also to Indiana’s storied past from the Civil War to the present. Honestly, I do not have a good suggestion which agency should lead this project. I do know the Indiana War Memorials Commission would be honored to be a member of the team to contribute whatever we could.”
- Phyllis Geeslin, president and CEO, President Benjamin Harrison Foundation — “I see this celebration as statewide events taking place on the same day or week with a common theme. It might be a different form of celebration in each locale that best reflects the historic character of the area. I see this celebration under the direction of the Department of Natural Resources with a steering committee organized by a consortium of leaders from cities, towns and counties including representation from the Indiana State Museum system, Indiana Historical Society and city/county Historical Societies. This will be a bit of a bear to organize but could be a huge encouragement to the Indiana/Hoosier spirit.”
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Of course, quality ideas won’t implement themselves but require careful planning over a period of years. Ohio spent 10 years and millions of dollars getting ready. Indiana needs to bite the bullet and do the same.
Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at email@example.com.