Released January 24, 2020

Irsay Collection to Loan ‘Big Book’ From Alcoholics Anonymous for Display in Indiana State Museum’s Opioid Exhibit

INDIANAPOLIS (Jan. 24, 2020) – In Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), it’s known as the “Big Book” – a treatment plan that lays out the 12-step program that the group is known for.

The original draft of the manuscript is coming to the Indiana State Museum starting Feb. 1 and will be on display in the museum’s new exhibit, FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis. The book is on loan to the museum from The Jim Irsay Collection, a robust assemblage of historic and culturally-significant artifacts acquired over several decades by Jim Irsay, owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts.

The working manuscript from 1939 features notes from the two founders of AA, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, as well as program participants, doctors, clergy and various professionals. The comments were compiled into this single, annotated version of the manuscript – allowing readers to see how the final book was shaped and the reasoning behind the authors’ decisions.

The Big Book would go on to be translated into 67 languages, impacting millions of people working toward recovery.

“When I began this collection, my goal was to preserve important pieces of history so we could protect them and share them with future generations,” Irsay said. “These items – especially ‘The Big Book’ – continue to be a source of inspiration and joy to so many. I am only a steward, so I want to make sure Hoosiers from all walks of life are able to learn from this document as Indiana takes up this battle against addiction.”

Within the FIX exhibit, the book sits at the entrance to the area focused on recovery, since the book means so much to people recovering from many types of substance use disorders. The 12 steps have become the basis for many recovery programs, and the book itself can serve as a beacon of hope for those struggling with substance use disorders.

“It is a privilege and an honor to present the original Big Book to the public,” said Cathy Ferree, president and CEO of the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. “This particular object that means so much to so many demonstrates the power of original pieces, and sharing them with our visitors makes a difference in the overall impact of a museum experience. The meaning of the Big Book is known within the recovery community far and wide, and in FIX, its presence opens up all types of avenues for dialogue between visitors. That is the very real power behind an object of this caliber.”

The book will be on display in FIX throughout the run of the exhibit, Feb. 1, 2020, through Feb. 7, 2021, with the exception of Feb. 21-22, when the book will be off-site for an Alcoholics Anonymous convention.

Entry to FIX is included with purchase of museum general admission.


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The Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites is located in White River State Park in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. It is Indiana’s museum for science, art and culture, offering a place where you can celebrate, investigate, remember, learn and take pride in Indiana’s story in the context of the broader world. Even the building is a showcase of the best Indiana has to offer in architecture, materials and sculpture. Easy and convenient parking is available in the attached underground garage.