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?