An administrative role within the world’s largest children’s museum is no simple task, and it’s definitely not a job for just any person. Luckily for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and its more than one million annual visitors, there’s an EIU alum on the job.
Chris Carron is the director of collections at TCMI; he’s a graduate of Eastern’s historical administration program, attending classes on campus in 1984-85 before spending the following year completing an internship as part of the program. Carron’s responsibilities include not just the material currently exhibited within the museum, but also the much larger cache stored away from public consumption.
“Most people don’t realize that museums of this size have maybe five to 10 percent of their collections out on exhibit at any one time,” explained Carron. “We’re in charge of keeping that 95 percent of the collection preserved well and ready for use for future exhibits and programs.”
Carron expresses an unabashed love for his job, which involves a wide variety of work and a definite need for adaptability.
“The day varies a lot,” said Carron. “I’m in storage, I’m at my computer, I’m at meetings working with people, sometimes I’m traveling to far-off places to actually collect objects for the museum.
“We have a whole staff of curators and conservators who preserve the collection on exhibit and in storage. They work on exhibit teams to help choose objects that are going to be placed out for use with the public. Sometimes we test objects with the public to see what their prior knowledge of that object is and its potential for learning. We work with donors who give us things that we add to the collection. Sometimes we even remove things from the collection and sell them so we can use that money to purchase things we really need for the collection.”
Fortunately, Carron says his time at Eastern set him up for success in this role.
“There are a lot of programs today at universities all across the country that offer one or two classes in how to work at a museum,” said Carron. “
What I found at Eastern Illinois in the Historical Administration program was really a great concentration on work in museums and archives and historical societies and a good balance between just pure information and content, and also very practical experience.
“We worked on building exhibits, we cataloged collections. By the time I got out in a real job, I’d actually had experience in all those things. Not every program can say that, but the Historical Administration program at EIU really does do that.”
Due to the program’s popularity and the similar success enjoyed by many of its other graduates, Carron says it also facilitates a great deal of idea sharing.
“A lot of my classmates at that time are still my network all across the country today,” said Carron. “Some work in museums, some of them work for professional organizations, some work at universities, but since we had such a close working relationship as a team at EIU, we really know everybody’s strengths and weaknesses.
“That’s wonderful -- when there’s something you need to know that isn’t your strength, you can call on those classmates you got to know at EIU. We have 400-plus graduates working museums all across the United States and North America that we can call on. Over the years, I’ve probably also had a dozen interns who have either come from the EIU program or that I’ve sent to the program; now they’re working at museums all over the world.”