cmi2-tabTutankhamun:  The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs has moved on to Toronto after a fantastic run at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.  But how did the exhibit come to Indy in the first place, and how is that good fortune connected to the Suzanne Mubarak Children’s Museum in Cairo?

Dr. Jeffrey Patchen, CEO of the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis discusses this, current exhibits connected to Egypt, and the forthcoming National Geographic Treasures of the Earth in this exclusive Em Hotep! interview.



Em Hotep:  Dr. Patchen, the story of how the Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs exhibit came to Indianapolis and the story of your involvement with the Suzanne Mubarak Children’s Museum are really the same story, aren’t they?

Dr. Patchen:  They are clearly connected, but one came before the other.  The work with Mrs. Mubarak, well, actually prior to the work with Mrs. Mubarak we were doing some work with Dr. [Zahi] Hawass that led to the work with Mrs. Mubarak that led to King Tut


Em Hotep:  From what I understand you were working with Dr Hawass on the National Geographic Maps project, right?

Dr. Patchen:  That’s right, it was a travelling exhibit called Maps: Tools for Adventure with National Geographic.


Em Hotep:  So how did that lead to you working with Mrs. Mubarak on the Children’s Museum in Cairo?

Dr. Patchen:  Well, we were invited to come to Cairo to film Dr. Hawass for the video portion of one of the information stations in the Maps exhibit.  Dr. Hawass had provided us with some of his equipment, such as the remote robot that he used inside the Great Pyramid to travel into some of the new chambers and tunnels there, so when he asked us to come to Cairo to record him, of course we were glad to.

When we got there Dr. Hawass said he would really like our presence at the First Lady’s office the following afternoon to provide a critique of the progress being made on the new Suzanne Mubarak Children’s Museum.  And it would be an opportunity to meet the first lady.  Well, of course how do you say no? 


First Lady of Egypt, Her Excellency Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak

So the next day we attended the presentation with the First Lady and Dr. Hawass, where we also got a chance to meet the architect, Michael Mallinson from London, who we had never met before.  Our Vice President, Jennifer Robinson, was also there with me, and part way through the presentation Dr. Hawass turns to us and says “So what do you think?”  I said its very nice, thank you, it looks like it will be a fine museum, and he said “I want to know what you really think.  How can we make this better?” 

We made a few suggestions in terms of how the exhibits might be made family friendly versus just for young children.  Dr. Hawass liked what he heard, and the first lady liked what she heard, and at the end of the meeting Dr. Hawass turned to Mrs. Mubarak and said “If you agree, I think that the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis should design all of the exhibits for your new children’s museum.”  And she said “Dr. Hawass that would be wonderful if the museum would be willing to do that.” 

Of course we hadn’t really discussed doing that!  But Mrs. Mubarak is nothing if not compelling and very, very passionate about her work with children and families, so of course we said yes.  What transpired over the next two years were a series of visits to Cairo and serving as the lead organization to help put the design of the exhibits together. 

Well, one night we were at an open gala dinner for the Maps exhibit, and without having told me what he was going to do, Dr. Hawass stands up and announces that as a way of saying thank you for all the work we did with the Suzanne Mubarak Children’s Museum he would like to bring Tut to Indianapolis!  Of course everyone was thrilled, and two years later King Tut arrived and opened on June 27th

We had a four month run, and just last Monday the final truck left on its way to Toronto.  It was a wonderful, wonderful run here, and we put almost a quarter of a million people through that exhibit in just four months, so it was very, very good.


Em Hotep:  There is really no way to prepare yourself for the exhibit, not justthe artifacts themselves, which were beautifully presented, but the way the exhibit was arranged was a large part of the experience as well.


The entrance to the Antechamber of King Tut’s Tomb (Photo courtesy of the exhibit Facebook page)

Dr. Patchen:   Arts and Exhibitions International really did a nice job.  I may be a little prejudiced because it came here, but we had seen the previous exhibit that had been in San Francisco, and they are both produced by the same exhibit company and both are very fine exhibits, but we really like the context that this exhibit put Tut in as compared to the previous exhibit.  This really gave you a sense of what court life was like, and religion in the time of the pharaohs, and the focus from many gods to one god, and it was just, I thought, very well done.  And kids in particular just love that entrance piece as you go into the tomb, it feels like you are entering the tomb with Howard Carter for the first time, so they really liked that.


Em Hotep:  I also noticed that the labeling was close to the ground, which makes this an especially inclusive exhibit for young people.

Dr. Patchen:  We thought that placing the labels both down low and up high, which was how the exhibit came to us and is going to other cities, really worked well for us because the labels were convenient for children who can read, that was just great.  And adults of course could just look up slightly and see the same labels.  So we really liked that a lot.


Em Hotep:  Were there any parts of Tutankhamun:  The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs that particularly stood out to you?  Do you have any favorite parts of the exhibit?

colassal statue of tut

Colossal statue of King Tutankhamun (Photo courtesy of the exhibit Facebook page)

Dr. Patchen:  Well, the two huge sculptures, one of Amenhotep IV, who is thought to be Tut’s father, and the actual sculpture of Tut at the end of the exhibit were just spectacular.  But there is one piece that I just really loved how it was displayed, and that was the staff with the feathers on it.  I talked to the folks at Arts and Exhibitions International about how that piece was displayed and there is really a great story behind that.

The feathers were done as an imprint on glass, because the original feathers, of course, would have disintegrated thousands of years ago.  But when Howard Carter opened the tomb in 1922 he took pictures of the staff and the pattern in the sand where the feathers had disintegrated.  Arts and Exhibitions took that photo of the feathers and then had it etched in glass and then put it on top of the staff.  I thought that was just brilliant in terms of exhibit display because it really gave you a sense of how the staff with the feathers on it must have really looked.


Em Hotep:  So to return to the subject of your involvement with the Children’s Museum in Cairo, Mrs. Mubarak is known to be a champion of human rights, particularly as they relate to education and children and women’s rights.  She has down a lot to raise the life condition of the Egyptian people, which of course has a ripple effect throughout the entire world.

Dr. Patchen:  It does.


Em Hotep:  So through your involvement with the Children’s Museum in Cairo you are really a direct part of Mrs. Mubarak’s mission, so, when you began work on the National Geographic Maps project,  did you ever imagine that you would become a world ambassador for children?

childrens museum jordan

Children's Museum Jordan (Photo courtesy of CMJ Facebook page)

Dr. Patchen:  Well, not specifically in Egypt.  We have done a number of other projects that are equally interesting and important.  We served as consultants to the Children’s City in Dubai, and to the first national children’s museum in Jordan.  I did some work for Queen Rania of Jordan who, like Mrs. Mubarak and Princess Haya in Dubai, is very committed to children’s libraries, women’s issues, and to her people.  So this is kind of outreach is ongoing for us, but the invitation from Dr. Hawass and Her Excellency Mrs. Mubarak came as a wonderful surprise.  Mrs. Mubarak is just absolutely passionate about libraries and museums and wanting to make sure that children throughout Egypt have access to both.


Em Hotep:  What is the current status of the Suzanne Mubarak Children’s Museum?

Dr. Patchen:  It has been several months since I have personally been back to Cairo, but the architect does send me pictures, so I know that the building is out of the ground.  The museum is in a suburb of Cairo called Heliopolis, on the site of the previous Children’s Museum which was considerably smaller.  I believe all the external work and coverings are done, and basic infrastructure is going on inside.  The exhibit fabrication process is moving forward and right now we have firms in the United States and Europe bidding to do the fabrication.


Em Hotep:  So, to return to Indianapolis, even though the Tutankhamun exhibition has moved on to Toronto, I understand there is still a permanent exhibit at the Children’s Museum for young Egyptologists?

take me there egypt

Riding through Take Me There: Egypt (Photo courtesy of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis)

Dr. Patchen:  Well, there is, it’s called Take Me There:  Egypt, and at 13,000 square feet it’s actually the largest exhibit on contemporary Egypt ever mounted in the U.S.  It’s a cultural immersion experience that takes you to Egypt via Egypt Air, although it’s only a two minute flight, I should say!  And you arrive in Cairo and you can change your money, obviously virtually, and you can don traditional Egyptian clothes, and explore the exhibit.

Visitors have a chance to interact with and explore living spaces, one which is modeled on an urban setting, and another that is modeled on a rural setting.  You can participate in the marketplace, you can pass by and through the façade of a mosque, there is a section of the Nile that focuses on the care of the environment because of course Egypt is the gift of the Nile.  And there is a coffee shop, a tent-maker, an herbalist shop, plus lots of hands-on activities related to musical and visual arts.

There is also a whole cultural immersion room where you actually join a contemporary Egyptian family for the presentation of the celebration of the sebou, the celebration of the seventh day after the birth of a child.  And kids learn the sebou song, a sebou dance, you learn to play instruments, and learn about the sebou tradition and help make gifts, and there is a procession through the village. 

Take Me There:  Egypt is an immersive experience that opened the same day that the Tut exhibition opened, and is one of our permanent displays.  The focus will be on Egypt for two and a half years, and then it becomes Take Me There: China for an entirely different cultural experience.


Em Hotep:  So is there a lot of interaction between the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the schools in the region?  Do you see a lot of educators using the Take Me There:  Egypt exhibit as a means of exposing young people not only to Egyptian history but to Egyptian culture as well?

Dr. Patchen:  Absolutely.  We have two units of study that are tied to state and national standards, and we did dozens of teacher professional development institutes in the summertime before and after Tut opened so when the school groups started in September they were all prepped and ready to go.  We put about 90,000 school children through Tut and Take Me There:  Egypt during the first four months of the school year.



Em Hotep:  Let’s say that I’m a teacher who wants to bring my class to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to experience the Take Me There: Egypt exhibit.  Who would I contact and how would I go about setting that up?

Dr. Patchen:  Well, teachers can make reservations on our website or they can call our Call Center which is (317) 920-2001 and can make a reservation there and talk to folks about specific times.  Teachers can choose from  a facilitated or un-facilitated tour, depending on their preference.   If they would like a facilitated tour that’s tied to units of study they can do so, that’s a wonderful way to go.  Or some teachers prefer the un-facilitated and just come and go through at their leisure.


Em Hotep:  Does the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis have any future plans that involve ancient history in general and ancient Egypt in particular?


The Terracotta Warriors (Photo by Miguel A. Monjas)

Dr. Patchen:  Actually yes, we are working with National Geographic on a new permanent exhibit that we will be announcing in the next month or so.  It’s called National Geographic Treasures of the Earth and it will be an exciting archaeology exhibit that will explore three archaeological sites. 

One of the sites that will be represented is the tomb of Seti I.  We will have a partial replica of the tomb where kids will have an opportunity to learn about hieroglyphics and conservation, in particular the preservation of artifacts and the hieroglyphics there. 

Another site represented will be a replica of the Terracotta Warrior dig in China.  We have a wonderful relationship with the Terracotta Warrior Institute. 

And the third area will be an underwater archeology experience in partnership with Indiana University who has found what is believed to be the shipwreck of Captain Kidd the Pirate in ten feet of water in the Dominican Republic. 

So we are very excited about the National Geographic Treasures of the Earth exhibit.  Kids will have an opportunity to continue to focus on Egypt as well as China and the famous Terracotta Warrior find, and then experience some underwater archaeology as well.  This exhibit will open in late 2011.


Em Hotep:  Do you have any intern programs for students who may want to get involved with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis?

Dr. Patchen:  Absolutely.  We have a full-time intern coordinator that’s part of our volunteer and intern program.  We don’t have many paid internships, but in the summertime we have had as many as 40 interns from all over the United States, and some from other countries as well, who have an interest in working with children across the sciences and arts and humanities.  There is information about our internships on our website under the Employment, Volunteer, and Internship section.


Em Hotep:  So volunteerism plays a role at the Children’s Museum as well?

Dr. Patchen:  Yes, we have several hundred volunteers.  Debbie Young is our Director of Volunteer and Intern Programs, and we are always looking for volunteers, not only adult individuals, but also families that might like to volunteer together. 


Em Hotep:  So on a more personal level, someone doesn’t just wake up one day and say “You know, I’d like to run the largest and best children’s museum in the world.”  Or do they?  What led you to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis? 

Dr. Patchen:  Well, I was working in state government here from 1984 to 1990, working at the State Department of Education as the State Arts Consultant, and I was aware then of this great museum here.  I went away to take an endowed chair at the University of Tennessee in arts education and later to work for the J. Paul Getty Trust and Museum.

When I had an opportunity to return to Indianapolis to work with the Children’s Museum it was really an opportunity to do all the things that I am most passionate about, which is learning, family learning in particular, and love of the sciences and the arts and the humanities and ways in which they intersect in their disciplinary and multigenerational ways. 

This museum has an 85 year history, it’s the world’s largest children’s museum and it is committed to creating these truly extraordinary learning experiences, and has the power to transform the lives of children and families.  I couldn’t be in a better place.


Em Hotep:  One last question.  Helping children understand the world and their power to change it seems to be part of what drives you personally and professionally, so if I may ask, how do you see your work in terms of the effort to expand the dialogue between the world’s cultures and how your work really contributes to world peace?

Dr. Patchen:  There are several ways in which we do that, and that’s a wonderful question, and more and more we think this museum has a role in that effort.  We created an exhibit in 2007 called The Power of Children and it features the lives of three children whose life and death transformed the world in unique ways. 

Visitors are introduced to the stories of Anne Frank, Child of the 1940’s and the Holocaust, Ruby Bridges, Child of the 1960’s and victim of prejudice and discrimination in entering schools in the 1960’s, and Ryan White child of the 1980’s and also a victim of prejudice and discrimination related to his contracting pediatric HIV.

And an important part of that exhibit experience is taking you to the Anne Frank house, taking you to the classroom in Williams Frantz Elementary School in 1960, and taking you to Ryan’s house in Cicero, Indiana and meeting those very children.  At the end of the experience you are invited to make your own promise to make the world a better place. 

It’s a very different kind of an exhibit for a children’s museum to be engaged in because the topics of racism and religious intolerance and pediatric HIV.  These are not typical subjects that you would associate necessarily with a children’s museum, but it has been one of the most transforming experiences for us as a staff and for visitors who come.

We also created an awards program called the Power of Children Award which honors Hoosier youth age eleven to seventeen who have made an extraordinary difference in the lives of others.  These are children who have gone out and seen a need in their community, or in the world, and identified the funds or the resources needed to help alleviate that need and have had success in their project. 

We hosted our Sixth Annual Power of Children Awards this past Friday night where we awarded six Hoosier youths with $2,000 each to continue their philanthropy and their good work, and with four-year scholarships to Indiana University.  That’s a way that the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis can help encourage youth to make a difference in the world and make a difference in a big way.



Copyright by Keith Payne, 2009.  All rights reserved. 

Photos from the Tutankhamun:  The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs Facebook page may be accessed here.  Photo from the Children’s Museum Jordan may be accessed here.  Photo “Group of terracotta warriors at Xian.jpg” by Miguel A. Monjas is provided courtesy of Wikimedia Commons  and are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License. In short: you are free to share and make derivative works of those files under the conditions that you appropriately attribute them, and that you distribute them only under a license identical to this one. Official license 



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This entry was posted on Monday, November 9th, 2009 at 1:58 pm and is filed under Egypt in the News, Living in Louisville!. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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