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Conner Prairie reports rising attendance, revenue

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Conner Prairie is ending 2009 in relatively better health than last year, as attendance and revenues are up at the same time donations are lagging, executives at the Fishers living history museum said Wednesday.  

As of Nov. 1, membership attendance had spiked 18 percent. General admission attendance was up 11 percent, to 90,000 visitors.

Revenue was up 4 percent, but the percentage increase didn't correlate with the rise in attendance because members pay yearly instead of each time they visit. Conner Prairie brought in nearly $10 million in 2008.

Conner Prairie executives attributed the encouraging attendance figures to some “unusual” choices they made to help the museum weather the economic storm.

One of the most notable is the exhibit that opened this year, the 1859 Balloon Voyage, which is the first step of an aggressive, long-range strategic plan, executives said.

The exhibit has contributed more than $200,000 in revenue to the museum.

France-based Aerophile, the balloon’s manufacturer, told Conner Prairie directors that the “capture rate”—number of paying guests who bought tickets to the exhibit—is the highest of any of Aerophile’s locations worldwide. Conner Prairie said more than 20,000 visitors have taken a balloon ride so far this year.

Conner Prairie’s apple store also is having a solid year, posting a 12-percent increase in sales compared to the same time in 2008.

However, the amount of donations the museum has received so far this year is 10 percent lower than it was last year. But executives remain confident Conner Prairie still will end the year ahead of last year’s giving totals.

Contributions to the museum so far are off 10.3 percent from 2008, when they totaled $749,693, said Cameron McGuire, vice president of development at Conner Prairie.

December, though, is an important month for not-for-profits, which typically see an end-of-year flood of financial gifts.

"It's a big month for us," he said. "But it's tough out there."   

Revenues from school admissions and special programs also are down from 2008, the museum said.

Conner Prairie said it should add to its 2009 membership and revenue totals with special programs running through the end of the year. They include Follow the North Star, Gingerbread Village, Conner Prairie by Candlelight and Holiday on the Prairie.

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