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:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Really, taking someone managing the regulation of Alcohol and making himthe President of an IVY Tech regional campus. Does he have an education background?

  2. Jan, great rant. Now how about you review the report and offer rebuttal of the memo. This might be more conducive to civil discourse than a wild rant with no supporting facts. Perhaps some links to support your assertions would be helpful

  3. I've lived in Indianapolis my whole and been to the track 3 times. Once for a Brickyard, once last year on a practice day for Indy 500, and once when I was a high school student to pick up trash for community service. In the past 11 years, I would say while the IMS is a great venue, there are some upgrades that would show that it's changing with the times, just like the city is. First, take out the bleachers and put in individual seats. Kentucky Motor Speedway has individual seats and they look cool. Fix up the restrooms. Add wi-fi. Like others have suggested, look at bringing in concerts leading up to events. Don't just stick with the country music genre. Pop music would work well too I believe. This will attract more young celebrities to the Indy 500 like the kind that go to the Kentucky Derby. Work with Indy Go to increase the frequency of the bus route to the track during high end events. That way people have other options than worrying about where to park and paying for parking. Then after all of this, look at getting night lights. I think the aforementioned strategies are more necessary than night racing at this point in time.

  4. Talking about congestion ANYWHERE in Indianapolis is absolutely laughable. Sure you may have to wait in 5 minutes of traffic to travel down BR avenue during *peak* times. But that is absolutely nothing compared to actual big cities. Indy is way too suburban to have actual congestion problems. So please, never bring up "congestion" as an excuse to avoid development in Indianapolis. If anything, we could use a little more.

  5. Oh wait. Never mind.

ADVERTISEMENT