IBJNews

Conner Prairie draws record crowds, ramps up programming

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Conner Prairie interactive history park in Fishers drew a record 246,000 visitors during 2013, mostly during the traditional outdoor season from April through October. June and July are its busiest months.

Now museum leaders are working to build on that success by ramping up year-round offerings and introducing programs designed for grown-ups.

CEO Ellen Rosenthal on Wednesday unveiled plans for Adults on the Prairie, events that will build on Conner Prairie’s popular Hearthside Suppers and hands-on lessons in historic trades like blacksmithing and woodworking.

“Adults kept asking us, ‘What’s in it for me?’” Rosenthal said.

Conner Prairie’s answer: experiential learning and food.

Its so-called Discovery Series will include workshops on topics like fermenting food (presented by Indianapolis’ Fermenti Artisans), iPhoneography with local expert Rad Drew, illustrations and landscape painting lessons from the Indianapolis Art Center, and a hog-butchering demonstration from the folks at Smoking Goose.

Prairie Plates, meanwhile, will open up the historic grounds to area chefs and food artisans for special events highlighting the farm-to-table and craft drink movements.

Restaurateur and Chef Neal Brown, owner of Pizzology in Carmel and Libertine in Indianapolis, plans to offer a modern take on time-tested cuisine to diners at the Golden Eagle Inn in 1838 Prairietown, for example. Local Chef JJ Boston will serve a historically inspired dinner on a long table set up inside a covered bridge in the 1863 Civil War Journey area—a venue that drew murmurs of approval from museum backers and community leaders who attended its annual meeting Wednesday night.

Attracting adults is just one part of Conner Prairie’s plan to broaden its appeal. It’s also revamping the indoor Create.Connect exhibit, funded with part of a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, and “reimagining” the nearby Discovery Station and Craft Corner areas.

Create.Connect, set up in the museum Welcome Center’s 2,400-square-foot atrium, integrates history with hands-on science activities now centered on wind power, electricity and energy. The next phase, expected to open March 27, will add early aviation (including a wind tunnel) and a 1950s patent office to the mix.

When Conner Prairie’s outdoor areas reopen this spring, Craft Corner and Discovery Station will close for about two months of renovations.

Plans call for transforming the craft space into an open art studio, allowing “children of all ages” to try their hands at historic crafts in addition to more modern projects. The play area for children 6 and younger, meanwhile, will get a climbable apple tree, a farmers market and pioneer garden, ride-on trains and new dress-up opportunities.  

The tree is a “tip of the hat” to the Conner Prairie Alliance, the women’s auxiliary that runs the museum’s Apple Store each fall (selling the fruit, not the computers). The group donated $60,000 toward the $200,000 project.

The museum is open four days a week from November through April, and six days a week during the outdoor season.

Rosenthal said the effort to increase year-round activities is a response to feedback from members looking for more value. And the indoor programming has proven popular even when the historic grounds are open.

“It’s weather resilient,” she said. “In Indiana, it seems like about half the time it’s either too hot or too cold to be outside all day.”

Daily attendance was up 12 percent last year, Rosenthal said during the annual meeting. Membership increased 21 percent, to 6,737.

The museum also reported its eighth consecutive balanced budget, with revenue of $9.9 million outpacing expenses.

Visit Hamilton County executives Brenda Myers and Karen Radcliff are excited by Conner Prairie’s plans, saying the changes should appeal to travelers of all ages.

The museum already draws visitors looking for family-friendly activities—which will become even more important when Westfield’s Grand Park Sports Complex opens this year, they said—but Hamilton County also draws plenty of adults traveling alone.

“We’re already bringing in adult leisure travelers” who typically visit in fall and spring, Radcliff said.

Myers agreed. “This makes so much sense.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
thisissue1-092914.jpg 092914

Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Cramer agrees...says don't buy it and sell it if you own it! Their "pay to play" cost is this issue. As long as they charge customers, they never will attain the critical mass needed to be a successful on company...Jim Cramer quote.

  2. My responses to some of the comments would include the following: 1. Our offer which included the forgiveness of debt (this is an immediate forgiveness and is not "spread over many years")represents debt that due to a reduction of interest rates in the economy arguably represents consideration together with the cash component of our offer that exceeds the $2.1 million apparently offered by another party. 2. The previous $2.1 million cash offer that was turned down by the CRC would have netted the CRC substantially less than $2.1 million. As a result even in hindsight the CRC was wise in turning down that offer. 3. With regard to "concerned Carmelite's" discussion of the previous financing Pedcor gave up $16.5 million in City debt in addition to the conveyance of the garage (appraised at $13 million)in exchange for the $22.5 million cash and debt obligations. The local media never discussed the $16.5 million in debt that we gave up which would show that we gave $29.5 million in value for the $23.5 million. 4.Pedcor would have been much happier if Brian was still operating his Deli and only made this offer as we believe that we can redevelop the building into something that will be better for the City and City Center where both Pedcor the citizens of Carmel have a large investment. Bruce Cordingley, President, Pedcor

  3. I've been looking for news on Corner Bakery, too, but there doesn't seem to be any info out there. I prefer them over Panera and Paradise so can't wait to see where they'll be!

  4. WGN actually is two channels: 1. WGN Chicago, seen only in Chicago (and parts of Canada) - this station is one of the flagship CW affiliates. 2. WGN America - a nationwide cable channel that doesn't carry any CW programming, and doesn't have local affiliates. (In addition, as WGN is owned by Tribune, just like WTTV, WTTK, and WXIN, I can't imagine they would do anything to help WISH.) In Indianapolis, CW programming is already seen on WTTV 4 and WTTK 29, and when CBS takes over those stations' main channels, the CW will move to a sub channel, such as 4.2 or 4.3 and 29.2 or 29.3. TBS is only a cable channel these days and does not affiliate with local stations. WISH could move the MyNetwork affiliation from WNDY 23 to WISH 8, but I am beginning to think they may prefer to put together their own lineup of syndicated programming instead. While much of it would be "reruns" from broadcast or cable, that's pretty much what the MyNetwork does these days anyway. So since WISH has the choice, they may want to customize their lineup by choosing programs that they feel will garner better ratings in this market.

  5. The Pedcor debt is from the CRC paying ~$23M for the Pedcor's parking garage at City Center that is apprased at $13M. Why did we pay over the top money for a private businesses parking? What did we get out of it? Pedcor got free parking for their apartment and business tenants. Pedcor now gets another building for free that taxpayers have ~$3M tied up in. This is NOT a win win for taxpayers. It is just a win for Pedcor who contributes heavily to the Friends of Jim Brainard. The campaign reports are on the Hamilton County website. http://www2.hamiltoncounty.in.gov/publicdocs/Campaign%20Finance%20Images/defaultfiles.asp?ARG1=Campaign Finance Images&ARG2=/Brainard, Jim

ADVERTISEMENT