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flying toward success: a collaborative approach to designing 1859 balloon voyage at conner prairie

Thanks to Conner Prairie’s General Manager for Experience Delivery, David Allison,  for this guest post.  

Winner, 2009 Pinnacle Award for “Best Of Show” for the 1859 Balloon Voyage Exhibit Launch.

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. We had over 21,000 people fly to 400 feet in our balloon last year as we told the story of John Wise’s airmail journey through interactive exhibits and engaging storytelling. As project manager for the contenballoont and operations of the balloon, people often ask me how we were able to blend the modern 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. 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 John Wise’s flight from Lafayette, IN, in 1859. 

balloon2

Tom Crouch then joined us for the debut of the exhibit in June as a keynote speaker. Our on-going relationship with Dr. Crouch (and the Smithsonian network of museums in general through our new Smithsonian Affiliation) led us to finding out about an annual Air and Space Museum conference that is held in Washington DC. This year, myself (Dave Allison, General Manager for Experience Delivery) and BJ Sullivan (Chief Pilot for 1859 Balloon Voyage) attended the Mutual Concerns conference in DC in late March to share with other Air and Space Museum professionals from around the country how Conner Prairie designed and developed our cutting-edge fusion ofballoon3 a modern-day thrill ride (the balloon) 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”.

Photos courtesy Conner Prairie.

conference extra! FREE mobile media workshops for Affiliates

mobile-learning-instituteThe Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies (SCEMS), with sponsorship from Pearson Foundation and Nokia, is offering free mobile media learning workshops June 16- 18, 2010 after the Affiliations National Conference.  Affiliates are the first to have the opportunity to sign up to attend these free day-long mobile media learning workshops.  Extend your conference stay with these bonus workshops!

Click here to register

Leadership Summit Digital Media
Wednesday, June 16
10 am to 4:00 pm
Free to Affiliates 

The summit brings leaders in digital media together with school and museum decision makers. Participants will explore current research and effective practices in the educational use of social networks, cell phones, and social-media-based games and applications.  They will engage in digital media activities, view short media presentations, and discuss digital media in their own context and its potential to bring new life to learning.

Mobile Learning Workshop
Thursday, June 17, and Friday, June 18
10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Free to Affiliates

Learn to use digital media to engage young people with the tools they are already using in their lives outside of school. You’ll create media projects based on Smithsonian resources-digital tours, podcasts, wikis, and more. During the workshops, participants will collaborate with content experts from the Smithsonian and digital media experts from Pearson Foundation and Nokia to create new approaches for reaching today’s students.  The programs will make it possible to test and share how to use mobile technology in a museum setting.

you could be our next visiting professional!

 

Katey Ahmann at the National Postal Museum.

Katey Ahmann at the National Postal Museum.

Twice a year, Affiliate staff members have the unique opportunity to work alongside SI experts for research and hands-on training through our Visiting Professional Program.  Affiliations was delighted to welcome  six Affiliate staff members for the fall 2009 and spring 2010 programs.  Here’s  a taste of what past visiting professionals experienced to inspire you to apply!    

 

In October 2009, Katey Ahmann from the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences spent a month working in the Smithsonian’s Office of Policy and Analysis where she conducted visitor evaluation studies at the National Postal Museum. She learned  strategies for interpreting the data through observation and discussions with other visiting residents.  

Lee Goodan at the National Museum of Natural History

Lee Goodan at the National Museum of Natural History

 

 

Also in the fall, Lee Goodan, from the Charlotte Museum of History, spent three-weeks working among four Smithsonian divisions–the Spark!Lab at the National Museum of American History (NMAH), Discovery Center at the National Museum of Natural History, the National Air & Space Museum, and Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. Lee learned how young visitors were using exploratory spaces at the Smithsonian and how the educators were using the galleries in a larger educational context.   This will help Lee as the Charlotte Museum develops plans to create a new Hands-on History Room, an interactive area for early Pre-K students.

 

Eric Stanley at the National Museum of American History.

Eric Stanley (left) at the National Museum of American History.

Joining us in February 2009 from the Sonoma County Museum, Eric Stanley worked with the staff at NMAH to learn about the development, research, and design phases of exhibitions, as he looks forward to planning expanded history galleries at the museum. Eric said, “It was a tremendous opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look and broad overview of a world-class history museum. I also cannot say enough about the individuals I met, the insights they shared, and the lasting connections I made. In addition to what I learned about exhibitions, I also came away with a richer sense of the possibilities that exist through the Affiliates program.”

 

Chena Popper in the Gems & Minerals department at NMNH.

Chena Popper in the Gems & Minerals department at NMNH.

 

 

 

Chena Popper, from the San Diego Natural History Museum just wrapped-up her visiting professional program in mid-April. Chena had the opportunity to work directly with the ten SI artifacts that are being loaned to her Museum for their All that Glitters: the Splendor & Science of Gems & Minerals exhibition opening May 15, 2010.    Working directly with experts at NMNH, Chena worked in the gem collection to help prepare the gems and jewelry which will be displayed at her Museum.  In addition to working directly with the artifacts, Chena also spent two-weeks in the registrar’s office at NMNH learning all the methods of care and registration for incoming and outgoing loans. 

 

And starting soon, Juan Carlos Lopez, a curator from the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, will be researching collections across the Smithsonian that pertain to Puerto Rican and Latino fine art.  Supported by a grant from the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Pool, Juan Carlos plans to develop an exhibition that explores the progression of Latin art from 1960- 1990, among other potential topics. Check back in the coming weeks as we blog about his experience!

 

Don’t forget the fall 2010 deadline for applications is June 4!  For more information and program guidelines, contact Elizabeth Bugbee, (202) 633.5304.

looking for something?

Romare Bearden, Bopping at Birdland (Stomp Time), from the Jazz Series. 1979. Smithsonian American Art Museum

Romare Bearden, Bopping at Birdland (Stomp Time), from the Jazz Series, 1979. Smithsonian American Art Museum

Imagine you’re a curator at the American Jazz Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Kansas City, Missouri.  You’re putting together a future exhibit and trying to find objects to include that are both new and fresh while complementing your collections.  How do you begin to explore what the Smithsonian might possibly have to contribute to this project?   Instead of having to search each individual collection at the Smithsonian you can now utilize the Collections Search Center where over 2 million object records from across the Smithsonian are catalogued.

A quick search on “Jazz” yields over 1,600 documents throughout the Smithsonian.  Perhaps you’re looking for something artistic, like any of Romare Beardon’s Jazz Series paintings, housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  Maybe you’re looking for some classic photographs of Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, or Ornette Coleman which can be found in the National Portrait Gallery.   The Postal Museum’s collection of stamps may lead you to illustrate how jazz is commemorated in this country through the issue of stamps depicting famous jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald or Duke Ellington.  Even the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries could lead you to some materials on the life of jazz legend Nina Simone.  One of the best aspects of this search capability is that it may lead you to museums you might not have thought would have jazz-related collections.   For example, the Hirshhorn Museum’s collections focus on modern and contemporary art and sculpture, but there you find a fantastic portrait of Big Joe Turner, a blues singer from Kansas City.

Within minutes of searching the Smithsonian’s vast collections utilizing this one-stop searching environment, you have found sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, interviews, sound recordings, sheet music, stamps, medals, letters and correspondence – all pertaining to jazz and legendary jazz performers.

So… try it out!  And let us know what you find.

Included in the Collections Search Center are records from the following Smithsonian units:

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
National Air and Space Museum
National Museum of American Indian
National Museum of Natural History
National Portrait Gallery
National Postal Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Archives of American Art
Archives of American Gardens
Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Human Studies Film Archives
National Anthropological Archives
Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies
Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
Smithsonian Institution Archives
Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory – Chandra X-ray Observatory

Thanks to Christopher Teed, Program Coordinator at the Visitor Information Center in the Smithsonian Castle for this guest post.