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Indiana Bicentennial Celebration 2016

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Ellen M. Rosenthal

About the Commission > Ellen Rosenthal Ellen Rosenthal

Ellen M. Rosenthal

Ellen M. Rosenthal retired in 2016 as President and CEO of Conner Prairie, an 800-acre living history museum in Fishers, Indiana. She assumed leadership in 2003, at the beginning of a governance dispute that resulted in the museum becoming an independent organization in late 2005.

During her 12-½ year tenure, Ellen engineered Conner Prairie’s transformation—reshaping the mission, programming, audience development, marketing strategy, finances and fundraising. What had been an isolated, traditional living-history museum became a popular, immersive and interactive history park deeply engaged with surrounding communities. Ellen’s unique approach to experiential learning and guest immersion resulted in 240 percent growth in annual attendance. More than 340,000 guests visit Conner Prairie’s historic grounds and indoor experiences annually. As of 2015, about 250 full- and part-time employees and 500 volunteers kept Conner Prairie operational 12 months of the year.

The museum’s innovations and achievements drew national attention and funding.  Under Ellen, Conner Prairie received the nation’s highest honor for museums, the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Medal, and became Indiana’s first Smithsonian affiliate. From a field of 18,000 museums, the authors of the book Magnetic: The Art and Science of Engagement (2013) featured Conner Prairie as one of six case studies of museums demonstrating prolonged business success and “tangible cultural and civic value.” In 2012, the National Science Foundation awarded $2.3 million, its largest grant to a history museum to date, to Conner Prairie to develop, mount and test an exhibit blending hands-on science and history.

Ellen piloted studies of families touring Conner Prairie that revealed unexpected and not previously understood barriers to learning. Staff responded to her study and subsequent research by developing an innovative method of engaging visitors, captured in a training video titled “Opening Doors to Great Guest Experiences.” 1,000 museums worldwide have purchased the video and put Conner Prairie’s methods into practice.

An accomplished executive with 40 years of museum experience, Ellen held positions of increasing responsibility at the Minnesota Historical Society, American History Workshop (museum consultants), Frick Art and Historical Center and John Heinz History Center. Trained as a curator, Ellen realized early in her career that a museum’s success required market strategy, financial discipline, organizational effectiveness and customer focus. She added these skills to her repertoire.

Ellen has lectured throughout the country on museum finance, programmatic strategy, organizational development and other topics related to the business of museums. The most frequently requested topic is how research led to Conner Prairie’s reinvention and growth. Her articles include, “Serving Children When Parents Come Along” (2010) and “Conversations Across Time: Family Learning at a Living History Museum” (2002 with Jane Hetrick) and the preface for “Life Stages of the Museum Visitor: Building Engagement over a Lifetime,” (2002).

A recipient of many awards and recognitions, Ellen was awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash by former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. The Indianapolis Business Journal identified her one of the state’s Most Influential Women and former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels recognized Ellen as a Distinguished Hoosier.  Indiana Representative Susan Brooks honored Ellen in the United States House of Representatives with a tribute for “her outstanding service to Conner Prairie.” Other awards include the Leading Light for achievements in science, education and technology from Indiana-based Women and Hi Tech, Excellence in Innovation from the Indiana Innovation Awards, Commitment to Creativity Trailblazers award from University High School and Torchbearer award from Indiana Commission for Women.

Originally from New Jersey, Ellen earned a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude from Barnard College at Columbia University in New York City, a master’s degree in American material culture from the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library at University of Delaware in Wilmington, and a master’s degree with high distinction in public management from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Through her participation in the Museum Learning Collaborative, Pittsburgh, she pursued further education and training in museum learning at the Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh.  

Ellen resides in Indianapolis and is married to Dr. Theodore Logan, an oncologist at the Indiana University Medical Center. They have three adult sons. 

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