UPDATED: Flying high with the help of the Air and Space Museum

The mission of Smithsonian Affiliations is to share the Smithsonian’s unparalled collections, scholarship and exhibitions with Americans in their own communities by developing collaborative partnerships with museums, cultural and educational organizations. Guest blogger David Allison, General Manager for Experience Delivery at Conner Prarie Interactive History Park, describes how Conner Prarie’s recent affiliation with the Smithsonian helped the park create a unique fusion of  high-flying adventure and historical accuracy.

(Photo courtesy of Conner Prairie)

(Photo courtesy of Conner Prairie)

The biggest news at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park north of Indianapolis in the last year was the debut of our new 1859 Balloon Voyage experience. This project has been highly successful and highly popular for our guests. More than 21,000 people flew to 400 feet in our balloon last year as we told the story of pioneering balloonist John Wise and the first official airmail delivery in the United States through interactive exhibits and engaging storytelling.

As project manager for the exhibit content and operations of the balloon, people often ask me how we were able to blend the modern hot-air balloon experience with the unique Indiana story of the first airmail flight. As we delved deeper into John Wise’s story, we realized that we were going to need to consult with experts in the field of aviation history. One of our first official meetings about the balloon project involved the world’s authority on the history of ballooning in America—Dr. Tom Crouch, the chief curator of aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. His expertise helped to guide the stories that we told through our exhibits to keep us firmly “grounded” in the history of aviation. Additionally, he explained to us how America’s fascination with flight in the 19th century led to the excitement surrounding Wise’s flight from Lafayette, Ind., in 1859.

(Photo courtesy of Conner Prairie)

(Photo courtesy of Conner Prairie)

Tom Crouch then joined us for the debut of the exhibit in June as a keynote speaker. Our ongoing relationship with Dr. Crouch (and the entire Smithsonian network of museums through our new Smithsonian Affiliation) led us to learn of the annual “Mutual Concerns” conference held at the Air and Space Museum each year. This year, I and B.J. Sullivan (chief pilot for 1859 Balloon Voyage) attended the conference in late March to share with other museum professionals from around the country how Conner Prairie designed and developed our cutting-edge fusion of a modern-day thrill ride with an age-old historical story about Indiana’s past. This nexus of an exciting experience grounded in the reality of a unique Indiana story is the heart of Conner Prairie’s mission to “inspire curiosity and foster learning about Indiana’s past by providing engaging, individualized and unique experiences.”

UPDATE May17, 2010: Conner Prairie has been awarded the 2010 Pinnacle award for Best in Show by the Hoosier Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America for media outreach for the “1859 Balloon Voyage Exhibit Launch.”
The Pinnacle Awards are the chapter’s annual awards program to recognize the best work in the public relations industry.

“The Pinnacle Awards celebrate strong communications programs and projects that have a meaningful impact on driving results for organizations,” said PRSA Hoosier Chapter President Jamaison Schuler. “The essence of award-winning communication is not about output, it’s about outcomes. In this business environment, it’s important to appreciate the value that good communications practices can deliver. Winners don’t just receive a trophy, they’re also recognized and celebrated by peers as professionals valued by this industry.”

Posted: 29 April 2010
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