Conner Prairie increased total attendance in 2012

Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, Indiana’s only Smithsonian Affiliate, completed its seventh consecutive year of balanced budgets while also experiencing increased attendance in 2012.

Community leaders, staff, board members and volunteers gathered Wednesday as Conner Prairie leadership reviewed key highlights from 2012, including the successful grand reopening of the newly revitalized 1836 Prairietown. The new adventures, structures and activities drew media and public praise and nearly 1,500 guests over the two-day celebration.

In 2012, Conner Prairie saw a 5 percent increase in total visitation, which includes admission to all of its programs – both day and night – such as Headless Horseman, Follow the North Star and Hearthside Suppers. Throughout the year, more than 235,000 people visited or took part in Conner Prairie programs. Adding in Symphony on the Prairie visitors, Conner Prairie hosted about 323,000 people last year.

Specifically, Headless Horseman was attended by over 25,000 guests last year – an increase from 2011 and the third highest year in its 29-year run. The popularity of Conner Prairie’s 1859 Balloon Voyage grew exponentially, with a 108 percent increase in visitors going up in the balloon.

Other key highlights included record attendance for the fourth consecutive year for Conner Prairie’s two summer day camps, Adventure Camp and Art Camp, with 8,800 camper visits. And despite the fact that funding for school field trips continues to decline, school program attendance increased by 7 percent, with Conner Prairie serving approximately 63,189 students in 2012.

Conner Prairie is especially committed to introducing the park’s interactive programs to individuals and families that may have not previously had the opportunity. Nearly 9 percent of visits – 22,000 people – came through free or greatly reduced admission. These opportunities included free community days, the Access Pass program that offers $1 admission to families on public assistance throughout the state of Indiana, and free or reduced admission for military families.

“Conner Prairie is at the forefront, leading the ever-changing movement of giving each visitor his or her own personal experience in a playful, interactive and educational way,” said President and CEO Ellen M. Rosenthal.

“The Conner Prairie of today proves that a museum can engage adults and children at the same time,” she said. “It is a place that creatively offers a wide range of imaginative techniques to inspire learning about history. And it is still a place of great beauty, with a landscape that moves us with reverence and awe.”

Kyle Wenger, Conner Prairie’s Chief Financial Officer, said that 2012 was a great year, given some of the challenges the non-profit experienced.

“Considering that in 2011 we had the $4.4 million grand opening of the Civil War Journey and that from mid-June through early August this year we experienced 35 days where the temperature averaged over 95 degree, it’s remarkable that attendance was up 5 percent compared to the prior year,” Wenger said. “Fortunately, the excitement of our programs – new as well as tried and true favorites – once again resulted in increased visitation and, by extension, revenue growth.”

Last year was also a successful fundraising year. Conner Prairie received more than $1.7 million from gifts and sponsorships and corporate support grew by 92 percent.

After reviewing the accomplishments of 2012, Rosenthal previewed programs and events that are underway for 2013. This year, Conner Prairie will focus on highlighting nature and integrating science into history.

In September, Conner Prairie was awarded a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create and distribute a model for integrating informal science experiences into exhibits and programs at historic sites and museums across the country. This project is in process and portions will be unveiled this year.

During the annual meeting, Conner Prairie also introduced new museum board members for 2013. They include Bill Batt, a retired director, executive vice president, and trust officer of First of America Bank, Indianapolis; Victoria (Tory) Callahan, a consultant for K-12 school districts who focuses on teacher preparation, teacher quality issues and education policy analysis; Chris Cooke, a returning board member who is a managing director of investments with Cooke Financial Group; Dave Cox, chairman of the Board of W. Hare & Son in Noblesville; Matt Wyatt, managing director and CEO of Case Coder LLC; Jackie Clark, new president of the Conner Prairie Alliance and formerly a chair of the Apple Store; and Robby Slaughter, new president of the Conner Prairie Horizon Council and founder of AccelaWork.

For full biographies and photos of both the Conner Prairie Museum and Foundation Boards, visit www.connerprairie.org/About-Us/Board-Of-Directors.aspx

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