Where the grass is greener

Under the triangular awnings nicknamed “the sails,” a previously neglected space at the Eiteljorg Museum has become a center of activity.

Kids and parents try their luck at panning for gold in a makeshift sluice, a tie-in with the museum’s ongoing “In the Gold! Riches and Ruin” exhibit. Visitors eat lunch at umbrella-covered tables, or read on the ledge along a bubbling fountain.

On weekday nights, local musicians perform concerts along the downtown canal.

The newly developed space has been made possible this year through the work of museum public programs manager Alisa Nordholt-Dean and her team.

“We wanted it to be a relaxing introduction to the museum for people who had never been here before,” she said. “Part of my job is to make sure the experience is meaningful for our visitors and the community in general.”

Nordholt-Dean grew up in Indianapolis, and earned a degree in anthropology and museum studies from IUPUI. Her first job took her to Colorado, where she worked at Mesa Verde National Park handling and managing the site’s artifact collection.

When a position opened at the Eiteljorg, she took the opportunity to move back home. The Greenwood resident has worked in the museum for the past 10 years.

Her responsibilities have ranged from helping visitors and staff research in the museum’s library, coordinating the artist-in-resident program and leading activities in the resource center.

Those jobs have led her to her current position in public programs. Her goal is to plan events, activities and other ways to connect to the public.

Organizing so many different programs takes a coordinated effort with Nordholt-Dean’s team and the entire museum staff.

“It entails everything, from making this outdoor space an inviting area for people to come into to planning family programs in the galleries to encompassing working with school groups,” she said. “I’m never bored — there’s always something different.”

The annual Day of the Dead project has become of the museum’s most popular events under Nordholt-Dean’s stewardship. The Eiteljorg partnered with Nopal Cultural Center, a Latin-American arts organization to offer thoughtful ofrendas, or sacred offerings, a Latin market and works by various artists.

More than 500 people attended the festival last year. Moving forward, the Eiteljorg expects even greater crowds as it partners with the Indiana State Museum next door.

“I’ve been here and seen it grow from this tiny little thing that only a couple of people who came in that day participated in, to an amazing community experience,” she said.

Nordholt-Dean also works closely with the Eiteljorg’s artist-in-resident project. Each year, the museum brings in three to four Native American artists to work with schools and the central Indiana arts community.

Since her husband, David Dean, is a sixth-grade teacher at Greenwood Middle School, Nordholt-Dean is sure to make sure Greenwood students get the experience these different cultures.

“Part of my mission is for people to realize that Native people are still around today. Unfortunately, in school, a lot of Native American curriculum is set in the past, so I think it’s very important to let those people speak from themselves,” she said.

The Nordholt-Dean File

Alisa Nordholt-Dean

Home: Greenwood

Occupation: Public programs manager, the Eiteljorg Museum

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and museum studies from IUPUI.

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.