One of our goals at Conner Prairie is to continue to bring in more guests year after year, but in trying to get people in the Indianapolis area to come, we hear the same thing over and over again; “I went there when I was in fourth grade. But is there anything new?” One of our biggest challenges in managing Prairietown
is trying to keeps things new and fresh to entice just this sort of person to come back. After all, it’s been 1836 for over thirty years in Prairietown, and in those thirty years, we’ve tried a lot of different ways to inspire & engage guests. And yet, since the way that Americans think about and use history changes all the time, we discover new angles from which to experiment with ‘new’ opportunities in 1836.
For example, believe it or not, when Prairietown was first started back in the ‘70s, the entire museum was surrounded by farmland for miles & miles. Folks in Indianapolis saw the Fishers area as ‘way out in the country,’ and a trip to Conner Prairie would be a small part of a rural getaway.
Today, however, Conner Prairie is somewhat of a rural oasis in the midst of bustling suburbia. Most people tend to lump Fishers in with the rest of the Indianapolis Metro area, meaning that Conner Prairie is no longer seen as ‘way out.’ So, Conner Prairie offers many folks who are used to housing developments and strip malls a chance to spend time amongst farm animals, fields and woods.
Thirty years ago, managers here would not have imagined that they could build programming around the opportunity to meet and pet some oxen, but today, we know that that’s a really important part of most guests’ visits.
So, we know that animals
are a key way to help things feel fresh & new in Prairietown. Recent research has also indicated that the trades shops (blacksmith, carpenter and potter) are a really important part of the Prairietown experiences, and that most people who come to Prairietown plan to visit the store and the doctor’s house
. Therefore, we are really specifically looking for ways revamp or augment our approaches in each of these areas to offer a new twist on old themes that can lure guests into town. While I can’t yet reveal what, exactly, we will be able to unveil for next year, be sure to stay tuned: there will be something ‘new’ in 1836 for 2011!
What would you like to see new in 1836?
The opinions, ideas and viewpoints expressed by the author of this post, on this web site, do not necessarily reflect the opinions, ideas, viewpoints or plans of Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.
Today, I’m going to share a few ideas I’ve had – or at least been a part of – in the last year or so. One of my favorite parts of my job is to come up with new, creative ideas. As part of the Experience Division at Conner Prairie, we want to design experiences that will have an emotional impact on guests. Whether it be an “aha!” moment, a “wow!” moment, or an “aw, that’s cute” moment, I want to be creative, clever, and effective. I personally look in a variety of places for inspiration – Google’s innovative use of technology, Pixar’s masterful storytelling, Disney’s brilliant Imagineering, and social performance-art groups like Improv Everywhere for out-of-the-box inspiration.
Here are a few ideas I’ve had for Conner Prairie.
Note: these are not necessarily plans that are moving forward, or even ideas that have been seriously considered by the powers-that-be. Just ideas and inspiration.
Water Gun Battle Reenactment
I borrowed this idea from a flash mob type group – this would be our premise: Instead of our staff doing the reenacting of history, the guests take the spotlight. On a hot summer day, guests would be divided into two camps. Each guest would be armed with water guns, water cannons, water balloons – all Nerf-ed out. A few “military commanders” would train the guests-turned-troops on 19th century infantry skills – marching, firing formations, etc. A few rousing “but they will never take our Freedom!” speeches would be given before the two camps, (maybe North v. South?) meet on the battle field. And then, water would fly.
Seriously, how much fun would it be to put guests, safely, in the center of the battle reenactment?
Colonial House: Conner Prairie
This idea was taken from the PBS show, “Colonial House,” an exercise in vicarious "experiential history" in which several people are put in the situation of surviving in the realistic setting of the original Plymouth Colony (circa 1628). Maybe we change the name to “Prairie House” to be more accurate – but imagine taking a random 15 folks from the Indy area to live in/around Prairietown and living by the standards of 1836, all-the-while being filmed, for a month.
Celebrating Jazz History
Conner Prairie recently became the first (and only) Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. It means we can collaborate on projects, have objects on loan, etc. etc.
In April, the Smithsonian leads a national celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). They encourage all of their Affiliates to join in on the celebration. So how would Conner Prairie celebrate this? By stepping into the early 20th century.
Imagine that a portion of the CP Welcome Center is turned into a 1920s or 1940s jazz club – local Indianapolis jazz acts could provide the music, we put some of our interpreters into the appropriate garb. How about guests get in for half-price by dressing the part themselves? Maybe we offer swing dance lessons in the week or two leading up. Maybe we make it into an entire jazz festival, full of high school groups, Indy jazz standouts, and appearances from actors representing Indiana jazz greats Wes Montgomery, Hoagy Carmichael, JJ Johnson, or Cole Porter?
I would have loved to experience the golden age of Jazz. This could be our chance to recreate it. Full of flappers, swingin’ notes, and simple sophistication.
So, those are just a few of my thoughts.
Our mission is to “inspire curiosity and foster learning about Indiana’s past by providing engaging, individualized, and unique experiences.”
What crazy ideas do you have for Conner Prairie? Send me your ideas - Bouse@connerprairie.org