And They Lived Spamily Ever After: Couple Weds at SPAM Museum

April 26, 2017

We were honored to have Mark and Anne wed at the JRA-designed SPAM Museum, so we sent the happy couple a signed rendering, some JRA swag, and Cincinnati-themed presents for their two daughters, Milly and Evie.

We were honored to have Mark and Anne wed at the JRA-designed SPAM Museum, so we sent the happy couple a signed rendering, some JRA swag, and Cincinnati-themed presents for their two daughters, Milly and Evie.

PR Newswire/Hormel Foods Press Release

Yesterday, Mark I Love SPAM Benson – who last year legally changed his name as a declaration of his love for the brand - wed his fiancée, Anne Mousley, marking the first wedding to be performed at the world-famous SPAM® Museum. The newlyweds, who hail from Liverpool, U.K., made the journey to Austin, Minn., to say their vows in the one-of-a kind setting adorned with iconic brand memorabilia.

“I am beyond appreciative of my fiancée for making my dream come true, and of the SPAM® Museum for hosting a wedding day that exceeded anything I could have imagined and that I will cherish forever,” said Benson. “Marrying Anne was amazing alone, and the icing on the cake was getting to say our vows at a place dedicated to the brand that I love and holds so much nostalgia for me.”

Mark I Love SPAM Benson kisses his bride Anne during the first wedding ceremony to take place at the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN

The undeniably unique wedding was officiated by SPAMinister™ Jaynee Sherman, senior brand manager, Hormel Foods International Corporation, and took place among the SPAM® Museum’s exhibits showcasing the iconic brand’s pop culture influence, global affinity and historical relevance. The groom’s love for the brand was brought to life through a variety of wedding day details including SPAM® brand colored bouquets of roses, a SPAM®-themed wedding cake, and SPAMatizers™ for guests to enjoy following the ceremony.

Mark’s love for the SPAM® brand is rooted in family tradition, with his grandfather and uncle both having worked at a Liverpool SPAM® manufacturer, and the brand has become a part of many fond memories over the years. Knowing her groom would love nothing more than a SPAM® wedding, Anne reached out to the brand with the request to be the first couple to ever celebrate their wedding at the SPAM® Museum. After learning about the couple’s story and Mark’s love for SPAM® products, the makers of SPAM® agreed to make it a reality and Anne surprised Mark with the exciting news on Valentine’s Day.

The newlyweds cutting their cake following the ceremony at the SPAM Museum

“We know how truly special and fortunate we are that the SPAM® brand has such an enthusiastic community of fans and is a part of meals spent with loved ones for generation after generation,” said Nicole Behne, marketing director, grocery products at Hormel Foods. “We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make one of our most dedicated fan’s dream come true. It was an honor for the SPAM® Brand to be part of Mark and Anne’s special, and very unique, wedding day.”

As a gift to the bride and groom, Hormel Foods is sending them and their two daughters to Waikiki, Hawaii, for the 15th annual SPAM JAM® Festival on April 29. Their VIP experience will include access to the more than 20 local vendors creating their famed SPAM® dishes, enjoying Hawaii’s popular entertainment and exploring the island.

JRA provided complete planning, design, project management and art direction for the SPAM® Museum, which is located at 101 3rd Avenue NE, Austin, Minnesota. Please visit for further details.

Tags: Project Spotlight

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PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT: Kodak Experience Center Comes Into Focus

April 25, 2017

Eastman Kodak Company, a worldwide leader in imaging technology, has selected JRA to plan, design and implement a 9,000-square-foot Experience Center. The Center will be housed in Building 28 of the company’s Eastman Business Park in Rochester, New York and is scheduled to open in late Spring 2018.

While offering a nod to Kodak’s past, the Experience Center will celebrate the company’s current innovations in imaging, printing, software, consumer products and intellectual property solutions. Developing the Kodak Experience Center is a component of the company’s 10-year master plan to re-invigorate Eastman Business Park, which will also include a revitalized performing arts theater, housing, and retail shops. Kodak aims to deepen its ties with the community through the Experience Center and its associated programming.

The Center will feature the following:

  • Lobby – The lobby will incorporate a welcome desk, where guests might try out new products. Displays will emphasize Kodak’s heritage of innovation. The design will blend the building’s existing materials, such as marble, terrazzo, and light fixtures, with a contemporary new look.
  • Exhibits – An exhibit area will highlight Kodak’s many innovations in photography, film, printing, digital imaging, and chemistry. Visitors will also discover the many ways Kodak has been an important part of the community fabric of Rochester.
  • Café – A coffee shop and seating area will enable guests to linger before or after their visit. Displays will showcase new products alongside heritage artifacts.
  • Retail – Film and branded merchandise will be offered alongside new products, such as the KODAK EKTRA Smartphone and the new KODAK Super 8 camera. Heritage displays will share shelf space with new products.

Randy Smith, Senior Project Director of JRA says, “We have been working very closely with Kodak to create a space where guests can re-discover the impact that Kodak has had in their lives. They have always supported creativity with their products and processes and this will be a great place to celebrate that.”

“We have a fascinating story to share,” stated Dolores Kruchten, President of Eastman Business Park. “The JRA team is the ideal partner to help us create a venue where visitors can learn about the company’s rich history and experience Kodak today.”

Tags: Project Spotlight

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Conference World Tour 2017: Chloe Gets Inspired at the IAAPA Leadership Conference

April 17, 2017

Once again, we hand over the Conference World Tour blogging reigns to Chloe Hausfeld, Director of Marketing and Business Development. This time, she's reporting from the IAAPA Leadership Conference in sunny California.

It’s been a little over a month since the infamous IAAPA Leadership Conference, and they certainly did not disappoint. Keith James (Dad) and I made the trip out to Anaheim and Hollywood, California for several days to experience what the conference had to offer. “BE INSPIRED” was the tag line this year…from the 6 attraction sites we visited, to the presentations made by the speakers, not to mention the receptions they held, IAAPA certainly left us inspired.

Tuesday, March 7

We got to California early for prior commitments on Monday and Tuesday, but were ready to head to Anaheim before (too much) traffic hit. We got settled into Great Wolf Lodge, in time to catch our local Northern Kentucky University clinch their first spot in the NCAA Tournament with a win against the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.

That evening, we headed to Ballast Point Brewery for dinner and drinks with a large group of industry people. The atmosphere was great, and the company was even better. It was the perfect way to get the week started.

Wednesday, March 8

IAAPA had buses ready first thing in the morning to transport the “Great Wolf Lodge Group” over to The Grand Californian to begin the day. Conference attendees checked in at registration, grabbed our much-needed coffee, and were ready to get the presentations started.

Paul Noland and Greg Hale welcome the attendees to what was going to be a fabulous week, and always make sure to recognize that the events wouldn’t be possible without the IAAPA sponsors.

The Keynote Speaker of the event was Bob Weis, President of Walt Disney Imagineering. Mr. Weis walked the attendees through how the Imagineering team created the vision for Shanghai Disney Resort. In order to develop such an extraordinary product, they had to deliver experiences to the guests that are “Authentically Disney…Distinctly Chinese.” Learning about the process that they went through to enhance the guests’ emotional connection in this specific region was very enlightening.

Enjoying a relaxing break with friends between morning sessions. Lots of smiles between Jim Pattison, Jr. (Ripley Enterainment) and myself; not to mention, KJ being surrounded by some of my favorite ladies, Lauren Weaver (SALLY) and Erika Kulbach (Electrosonic).

The sessions continued with a presentation from Mike Konzen, Principal and Chair, PGAV Destinations. Mr. Konzen spoke primarily about PGAV’s company structure, and as well as their work approach. One of his slides read, “You can never have too many leaders…But you need to recognize that there are an infinite number of ways to lead.” It is imperative for our industry members to work together in order to achieve the best guest experiences we can within each and every attraction.

Jane Cooper, President and COO, Herschend Family Entertainment, followed Mr. Konzen. Ms. Cooper is Chairman of the Board of the IAAPA Foundation, and was addressing the crowd regarding their mission: “inspiring life-changing careers in the global attractions industry by cultivating tomorrow’s leaders.” The IAAPA Leadership Conference offers great opportunities that help to evoke innovation and success now, and in the future.

The first tour location of the conference was Disney California Adventure Park. For such a busy time of year for attractions in the states, IAAPA doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to our group. We had guided tours throughout the park, and enjoyed rides throughout the remainder of the day. The night was capped with The World of Color, one of my favorite evening spectaculars in the industry.

Top Left: Paul Chutter (WhiteWater West), Emily Colombo (WhiteWater West) and I getting photo bombed by the infamous Lauren Weaver (SALLY) while touring the park.
Top Right: Lo and I posing with THE Ryan Strowger (IAAPA)
Bottom Left: Gina Guglielmi (Intermark Ride Group) and I found a cozy bench to take a load off during all the fun.

Networking with friends is one of the best parts of every IAAPA event. I found a pretty great group to finish my evening with…

Erika Kulbach (Electrosonic), Philip Wilson (Extreme Engineering), Lauren Weaver (SALLY), Ryan Strowger (IAAPA), Jim Glover (WhiteWater West)

Thursday, March 9

Day 2 of the Conference was packed to the rim. We began the day busing our way to Knott’s Berry Farm. After our “welcome”, we were grouped again for behind-the-scenes tours throughout the park. From coasters to Mrs. Knott’s fried chicken, there’s always something to enjoy at America’s 1st Theme Park.

Top Right: If I’m going to ride and interactive dark ride, I’m gunna do it with the pros. I took on The Voyage to the Iron Reef with John, Sherry, and Lauren Wood (Weaver) from SALLY, and lost miserably.
Bottom Left: Emily Colombo (WhiteWater West) made sure that I didn’t get wet on the Timber Mountain Log Ride.
Bottom Right: Members of the IAAPA group enjoying the Calico Mine Train.

The next stop for Day 2 was the Aquarium of the Pacific. Nestled on Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach, the setting outside of the aquarium was enough to make your jaw drop. After a great presentation, we had lunch on the terrace, and then made our way through guided tours. I even found Nemo and Dory ☺


The last tour of the day was held aboard The Queen Mary. We could see the ocean liner from the aquarium, and I couldn’t wait to get across the water. What an amazing setting. It is apparent how proud their employees are to be there, and it made the experience that much better.

Bottom Left: Posing with a great view.
Bottom Right: Erika Kulbach (Electrosonic) and playing the Brit.

After a wonderful evening reception on board The Queen Mary, a large group of us headed to Yard House for a memorable dinner. A lot of laughs were had, and a major shout out, and thank you, to Philip Wilson (Extreme Engineering) on the planning side.

Friday, March 10

The third and final day of the conference began at Great Wolf Lodge. It was nice to not have to be bussed to begin the day, as we were staying there. With an eventful presentation, and an interactive educational session on “the howl” under our belt, we toured the adorably family friendly environment.

WHAT A WOLF PACK!!! Lauren Weaver (SALLY), Sara Ingram (Premier Rides), Erika Kulbach, me, and Mika Nur Faezah (JN Entertainment & Leisure Consultancy)

You show me a dog (ok, wolf)…I’m gonna hug it.

The last stop of the conference was Universal Studios Hollywood. The park speaks for itself, but as a bit of a Harry Potter fanatic, I am always ecstatic to make my way there. They literally rolled out the red carpet for our arrival, and had some of my best friends as the welcoming committee. We enjoyed a presentation from Scot Burklin (Sr. Director, Operations), Glen Connally (SVP, Technical Services), and Sheldon Duncan (VP, Marketing Strategy & Insights) over lunch, and then made our way through the park. Everyone decided it was time to take me to my happy place after the Walking Dead walk through, so we headed to The Hog’s Head in Hogsmeade.


Our Universal trip ended with the ever-enlightening Backlot Studio Tour.

Some of my favorite people in the world, all on the same tram…heart = full

As I said, networking with friends old, and new is one of the best aspects of every IAAPA event. To that end, several of us decided that we were not finished with one another, so we opted for a post tour.

Our “send off crew”… Gina Guglielmi (Intermark Ride Group), Sara Ingram and Jim Seay (Premier Rides)

#TheVegas had to put up with the #IAAPAbadkids for the weekend, and it was a weekend for the books. From the party bus leaving from The Grand Californian, to our last pose atop of Mandalay Bay, this was a weekend for the record books. I thank IAAPA for bringing these people into my life.

#IAAPAbadkids crew
Jeroen Nijpels and Mika Nur Faezah (JNE&LC), Lauren Weaver (SALLY), Erika Kulbach (Electrosonic), Bret Woodbury (Life Formations), Philip and Maegan Wilson (Extreme Engineering), and Warren Kong (Lightswitch)

Cheers to the next one!


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Meet the Team: Association of Children's Museums InterActivity Conference Edition

April 10, 2017

The theme of this year's Association of Children's Museums InterActivity Conference is "Fun is Serious Business", and we couldn't agree more! That's why we're making sure two of our most fun-loving staff members - Vice President, Shawn McCoy, and Senior Project Director, Mike Meyer - are in Pasadena to greet you at Booth #53 May 3rd and 4th. Designing children's museums inspires the child in all of us at JRA, so we asked Shawn and Mike to share some of their favorite museum-going memories, along with some other fun facts.

Meet Mike!

Years at JRA? 21 

Hometown? Cincinnati

Age That You First Went to A Museum? 6

Favorite Childhood Road Trip Experience? Fishing and camping with my dad. He fished, and I drew.

Favorite Museum Experience as a Designer? Crayola Experience

The Part of My Career I Enjoy the Most Is... I create giant toys (exhibits) children use to learn and play!

In My Spare Time, I... Paint! 

My Favorite People Are... My parents, because they taught and made me to be the person I am today.

Favorite Cartoon Character? Underdog 

Meet Rachel!


Years at JRA? 2.5

Hometown? Temple, TX

Age That You First Went to A Museum? When I was four years old, my parents took me to the NASA Johnson Space Center, aka Space Center Houston.

Favorite Childhood Attraction? There was an attraction at Space Center Houston where kids could run a simulation as NASA ground control. It felt so authentic and real - definitely my favorite attaction from childhood. 

Photo courtesy Premier Exhibitions

Favorite Museum Experience (As a Visitor)? My favorite museum experience is the traveling "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" - the eloquent storytelling, authentic artifacts, and gorgeous atmosphere achieved in this exhibition was exquisite and very moving. 

Best Thing About the Industry...I get to travel in time, I am always learning new things, I get to design and build amazing worlds, and I never have to grow up.

Do You Collect Anything? If So, What? I collect charms. I now have 3 charm bracelets filled with remembrances of my travels. 

Favorite Cartoon Character? Pikachu!

As we mentioned in yesterday's "Museum Milestones" post, we love saluting the superheroes of children's museums - their staff, visitors, donors, friends, and fans. What super power would Shawn and Mike like to have? Ask them at the InterActivity Museum Marketplace Reception (May 3rd from 5:30-7:30), and receive a special accessory perfectly befitting this year's theme...

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When Fun is Serious Business: Celebrating Small Museums at Interactivity 2017

April 07, 2017

From May 2-5, thousands of children's museum professionals will gather in Pasadena, California for the Association of Children's Museums 2017 Interactivity Conference. This year's theme is "Fun is Serious Business", and we couldn't agree more! That's why we're honored to sponsor the Interactivity 2017 Small Museums Financial Aid Program for the ninth year in a row.

The Small Museums scholarship, founded by JRA in 2008, provides select small museum professionals with complimentary registration to Interactivity and a ticket to the Evening Event, which will be held this year at Kidspace Children's Museum. The goal of the initiative is to offset professional development expenses for museum staff at open children's museums with annual budgets under $500,000. By doing so, ACM wishes to cultivate staff members at small museums for long-term careers in the children's museum field. 

This year's recipients represent children's museums from diverse sections of the country - what unites them is a love of children, a passion for learning, and a profound understanding of the power of play. Let's meet them!

Julie D’Amours, Education Director
Jackson Hole Children’s Museum (Jackson, WY)

The Jackson Hole Children's Museum (JHCM) is a small museum that operates in a small space with very limited staff, yet is an integral part of the Jackson community. JHCM serves countless local and visiting families in addition to offering extensive community outreach programs, in-school and afterschool programs, and summer programming. In addition to extensive community partnerships, JHCM collaborates with other children's museums in the region to share ideas and offer exhibit exchanges.

As the Education Director, Julie develops and implements the vision for JHCM’s educational programs and exhibits. The museum’s rural location makes it hard to share experiences easily with other professionals in the children’s museum field. Attending InterActivity will be invaluable for Julie to collaborate with staff from other small museums and share successes in the educational programming and opportunities that small museums can provide. She hopes to build a network of support within the small museum community so they can draw upon each other's interests and expertise when developing exhibits and programs.

Sarah Hanks, Executive Director
Children’s Museum of Blacksburg (Blacksburg, VA)

The Children’s Museum of Blacksburg (CMB) is a new museum previously managed by volunteers and part-time staff who believe deeply in the benefits of hands-on play, creative and innovative environments, and caregiver engagement in discovery. Their efforts have resulted in the cultivation of a rich community gathering space and resource for children, families, and educators that is positioned to grow and meet the evolving needs of the growing Blacksburg community.

In January, Sarah began work as CMB’s executive director. She looks forward to developing a network of colleagues at InterActivity who may offer advice, insights, and support during this year of transition for CMB. Additionally, she looks forward to gaining insights into the resources, vendors, and partners that may enhance CMB’s journey to become a premier learning and play destination in Southwest Virginia.

Ashley Markiewicz, Education Coordinator
expERIEnce Children’s Museum (Erie, PA)

The expERIEnce Children’s Museum engages more than 50,000 guests annually in meaningful educational experiences that inspire creativity, imagination, and exploration. Holding Erie’s Choice award for best museum since 2013, the ECM holds free admission days throughout the year in addition to hosting designated sensory friendly mornings for children on the autism spectrum. The Discovery Center is one of fourteen nationally certified outdoor classrooms in the state of Pennsylvania, providing a unique natural learning experience for each of our visitors. Each year, more than 2000 children from Erie’s Public Schools visit the museum. The ECM work tirelessly to provide one-of-a-kind experiences to a diverse demographic through classes, workshops, camps, value-added programming, and outreach.

As education coordinator, Ashley oversees all aspects of education within the museum brand. She is passionate about non-traditional education and is thrilled to network with and learn from fellow educators from museums across the country, and then share new techniques with the education team at home and eventually incorporate them into ECM’s curriculum.

Carol McManus, Executive Director
Children’s Museum of Acadiana (Lafayette, LA)

The Children's Museum of Acadiana (CMA) is a hands-on participatory museum serving children and their families, schools, and community organizations by providing interactive exhibits, special services, performances, and workshops. The museum has extensive community outreach programs, including specialized programs for Cub and Girl Scouts to complete badge and belt loop requirements. The museum's employees and volunteers work with many organizations in our community to provide an interactive "offsite" environment at the area's many festivals and other nonprofit fundraisers.

As executive director, Carol is responsible for all aspects of the CMA’s operations, including fundraising, staff supervision, programming, financial management, marketing, and community relations. She looks forward to discovering new approaches that may improve and expand CMA’s programming and support marketing the educational value of the museum while networking with and learning from experienced practitioners.


Leon Philpot, Director of Operations
Louisiana Children's Discovery Center (Hammond, LA)

The Louisiana Children's Discovery Center (LCDC) is is the only open and operating Children's Museum in the Northshore, Louisiana area. Since its opening, we have served over 155,000 children and their families. LCDC is more than just a conventional children's museum. It is a premier center that offers over 30 different engaging interactive hands-on exhibits and programs, making it an excellent educational resource for the entire community. Moreover, it is a great place where toddlers, children and teenagers can learn at their own pace while having fun and playing interactively with their peers.

“This is an exciting time for the Louisiana Children's Discovery Center as we embark on a new journey to replace our aging exhibits and hopefully a new facility that will house these new exhibits. Our time at InterActivity 2017 will help me make those connections with potential vendors and developers that will be able to guide us in the process.”


Abby Schwent, Education Director
Edwardsville Children’s Museum (Edwardsville, IL)

Edwardsville Children’s Museum stimulates curiosity and cultivates learning through interactive exhibits and experiential programming designed to help families connect and expose children to joyful learning. ECM’s current effort is the constructing the Discovery Garden, a nature classroom, and developing programs to help children learn about and experience the benefits of nature. Organizationally, ECM is at a critical juncture of community interest and support coupled with a desire to elevate exhibits and programming “to the next level,” but the current facility is small and space is prohibitive.

As education director, Abby develops all programming, supervises and trains the education department’s staff, meets with local school administration, writes grants, develops budgets, and helps market programs. As the education director at a small but growing children's museum, Abby hopes to gain insight into how large, established museums handle educational program structures, exhibit expansion, and successful fundraising and development.

Congratulations to all of the recipients, and we'll see you in Pasadena!

Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

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PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT - King Abdullah: Values and Wisdom Now Touring

April 06, 2017

 “King Abdullah: Values and Wisdom," the Introductory Convoy of the 2018 King Abdullah Exhibition, recently debuted at the 31st Al Janadriyah National Festival for Heritage and Culture in Saudi Arabia.

The collected artifacts, photographs and videos featured in the traveling exhibit are part of an intensive effort aimed at preserving King Abdullah’s legacy and promoting his values and wisdom, both locally and globally. The exhibit provides a glimpse of the preparations underway by the King Abdullah Foundation for a major exhibition in 2018. Following Janadriyah, the convoy will travel to 19 other cities throughout the Kingdom.

The experience begins with a three-dimensional map of where the convoy will be journeying throughout Saudi Arabia. Once inside the traveling exhibit trailer, guests can “Walk with the King,” viewing and digitally interacting with over 500 photographs of the late ruler. Visitors can then peruse a variety of King Abdullah’s personal effects, including garments, furniture and artwork. The exhibit concludes with “Stories of the King”, where guests can leave a video message about what this groundbreaking leader meant to them. The 50-square-meter exhibit has welcomed over 5,000 people per day since its opening.

“King Abdullah: Values and Wisdom” is an initiative of the King Abdullah Foundation, which seeks to sustain King Abdullah’s vision for a better world based on the virtues he espoused of justice, virtue, peace, and humanity. The History Factory, JRA, and The Brand Experience worked together to conceptualize, design and produce the King Abdullah Introductory Convoy for the Foundation.

“…Seek with tireless determination to acquire knowledge and learning; you are, after all, the builders of the future era, a future that will not accept anything less than to be in the forefront for the sake of our country that is generous to us and which expects from us the fruits of what it has given to us to make our country rise among nations.”
- King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud


All photos above courtesy The Brand Experience. For additional images, please visit @KingAbdullahVW on Instagram

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The Big Strokes: TEA Leaders Offer Lessons for Today's Themed Entertainment Industry

April 04, 2017

As originally written for InPark Magazine 

Industry growth is at a breakneck pace, and themed entertainment will soon be given the literal red carpet treatment during the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) big weekend in Los Angeles that includes the TEA Summit (April 20-21) and Thea Awards Gala (April 22). We asked TEA International Board member and occasional InPark contributor Clara Rice of Jack Rouse Associates (JRA) to interview members of TEA’s brain trust on some trending topics touching the global economy, the state of the industry, the role and importance of the TEA and the continuous pursuit of knowledge.

So expand your horizons and explore themed entertainment around the globe. We hope to see you in Anaheim.

Monty Lunde: Take advantage of new technology

Technifex President/CEO and TEA Founder Monty Lunde will moderate the Technology panel at TEA Summit Day One. The panel showcases Thea Award recipients Slideboarding and Mack Rides’ Inverted Powered Coaster, examining the business motivations behind these technologies and their implications for the industry.

CR: Why is technology so important to our industry, and how has TEA helped in its advancement?

Monty Lunde: Technological advancements that support the themed entertainment industry are one of the major drivers to creating more amazing, visceral and compelling guest experiences.  

The TEA’s value-add to the industry’s technology story is as a conduit for communication between vendors, suppliers and project developers. Designers and conceivers of new attractions often learn about new technologies from SATE conferences and other organized TEA gatherings such as behind-the-scenes tours and member company open houses, or via TEA member booths at IAAPA expos and other trade events. Through the Thea Awards, the TEA recognizes innovative technologies that have a direct impact upon storytelling, placemaking and quality guest experiences.

Advancements in technology can come from any themed entertainment discipline, or from other unrelated industries. Whether the advancements are in Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), 3D/4D theatrical experiences, new ride technologies, LED lighting, advanced control and safety systems, animation and special effects, or another direction, the TEA highlights these achievements so that others can use these tools to create ever more compelling attractions.

Brian Sands: Unleash the power of data

TEA Summit Day One brings “Industry by the Numbers,” a global market forecast presentation led by top economics specialist AECOM, which partners with TEA to produce the annual TEA/AECOM Theme Index and Museum Index, a comprehensive analysis of attendance and related trends at top-performing attractions across the globe. Among AECOM’s presenters include Vice President Brian Sands. (The next Theme Index is due out in early June.)

CR: Tell us about the relationship between TEA and AECOM as regards the Theme Index and what folks can expect from your panel.

Brian Sands: It is a great honor and serious responsibility for AECOM to prepare the Theme Index, providing us with the opportunity to carefully analyze attendance and other industry trends, and also giving us the chance to discuss these with a wide range of industry stakeholders. 

The Index has grown in complexity, comprehensiveness, and sophistication over the years, adding more segments of the business, broadening its geographic coverage, and increasing the depth and quality of the analyses. With this growth, the industry has warmed to the idea over the years, and this has helped with industry transparency, cohesiveness, and utility, to the point that it is now the industry standard, with its release eagerly awaited by all.

Our Industry by the Numbers panel on Summit Day One provides the attendees with an overview across the globe of major trends affecting the commercial and cultural attractions industry, including early insight into figures and discussions detailed in the Theme Index. It also provides us with a unique opportunity to present these early insights to an in-person audience and gather their questions about the topics discussed and associated issues, facilitating a discussion that compliments the written report.

Adam Bezark: Move with the times

Summit Day Two showcases industry blockbusters, offering case studies of the projects that will be celebrated at the following evening’s black-tie, Thea Awards Gala.

Over the past two decades, projects nominated for Theas have evolved with the industry, growing in technological complexity, expanding in geography, and exploring new methods of storytelling. TEA Thea Awards Committee Chair Adam Bezark of The Bezark Company offered his thoughts.

CR: How is the changing culture of the themed entertainment industry reflected in the Thea Committee’s approach and type of project submissions you are now seeing?

Adam Bezark: The ways are numerous and striking. There is the great new trend toward incredible, mega-scale story environments - such as Universal’s Harry Potter lands and Disney’s Cars Land. This has set the stage for even bigger and grander projects to come. There’s also the explosion of new international projects of ever increasing size and quality.

There is also rapid acceleration in entertainment technology: new types of show-oriented ride systems, sophisticated combinations of real spaces and advanced media, and increasingly smart interactive technologies. The tools keep getting better.

Because of these advancements, there are whole new categories of work that expand our industry and our ability to tell new, ever more engrossing stories, and fuel growth in other categories such as museums and visitor centers, an increasingly important part of our industry.

The number of Thea Award submissions hit an all-time high this cycle. We received over 200 project submissions in 2016, with over 50% coming from outside the United States. The Thea Awards are getting bigger, and better recognized, every year… and that’s super exciting for all of us.

Thomas Megna and Margaret Wong: Take advantage of the burgeoning China market…

Recently, I had the great pleasure of co-producing the “TEA Talks LIVE! Working in China,” professional development session. Among those sharing insights were TEA Asia Pacific Division President Thomas Megna of Megna Entertainment Group and Silkroading Entertainment, and Margaret Wong, California Center CEO and a member of the TEA Asia Pacific Division Board. Both are located in China with years of experience working there on an everyday basis.

CR: Why conduct business in China, and what are some of top recommendations for breaking into the market?

Margaret Wong: China right now is changing. The middle class is representing over 50% of the population… and getting more involved with mobile phones, apps, online buying, sports, and entertainment. All these areas are a huge market for the United States to get into China.

[But] doing business in China is not as simple as you think… First of all, you need a lot of patience. China is different from the US, all the way from decision making, distribution systems, [to] the corporate set up. Secondly, you have to do a lot of due diligence… to understand how China behaves, how the decisions are made and how the organizational structure is going to be. We need to be able to sell what the Chinese want and what the market needs. It’s not as much translation as more of what they are looking for and how the companies work.

Thirdly, I recommend having good partners in China. You will be better off penetrating the China market with its unique government structure and taxes and currency if you are able to find some type of local partner you can trust and work with.

Thomas Megna: The market is exploding right now. I have many developers coming to me saying, “I need good, qualified design companies and turnkey solution companies.” And so there are numerous projects, 100 or more different themed environment projects that are happening all over China right now… so if you’re anxious to come, if you want to get involved, the possibilities are definitely here… Be cautious, and join the fun.

David Willrich: …but don’t forget about Europe

With all the buzz surrounding the burgeoning China market and park expansions in North America, it’s important to remember that many landmark achievements of the industry have come from Europe. TEA International Board President and DJ Willrich Managing Director David Willrich, has no plans for us to forget.

CR: How is Europe woven into the fabric of the themed entertainment industry?

David Willrich: European parks can only dream of the attendance numbers (and dollars) that the top US parks enjoy. However, guest expectation is still very top-of-mind, leaving European creators figuring out how they can deliver illusions, quality and world-class attractions on significantly lower budgets.

Over the last 10-15 years, I would say that standards of many European parks have made a quantum leap in quality, partly due in part to market pressure but also partly due to a more experienced supply chain. More and more frequently, European companies have worked on projects driven by top creative teams and thus have a much better idea of the standards required. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that creative teams have to be even more creative in coming with ideas that can scale to a budget but still deliver at the top level. Technology plays a major role here as well. It keeps getting cheaper to deliver the best and most immersive effects.

Many European attractions have restrictions not experienced in other countries; particularly historic buildings or sites. Planning and environmental pressures can seriously curtail ideas, setting parameters that can be quite restricting and challenging. Our ‘Historic Futures’ themed SATE conference in Europe (May 4-5) will be addressing this very point.

The TEA plays a great role as an industry communicator, our events are growing in stature, and members around the world meet and chat with the best people in the industry. It all helps in setting and improving standards in all regions.

Christine Kerr and Kile Ozier: Never stop learning, and leave your comfort zone

Perhaps my greatest takeaway in reaching out to these TEA leaders is that learning is life-long, and even as we reach the pinnacle of our careers, we never have all the answers. Christine Kerr of BaAM Productions is TEA Past President and current Educational Programming Chair. Kile Ozier, a member of the TEA International Board, is co-chairing the “Elephants in the Room” segment of TEA Summit Day One.


CR: What’s the motivation behind the “Elephants” discussion topics, which may challenge some people’s comfort level?

Kile Ozier: People tend to fear what they don’t know and are skittish about some topics. The idea behind “Elephants” topics is to de-mystify and defuse such conversations so that people may acquire a fresh and clear, topical and relevant understanding of issues and events that might otherwise seem volatile or delicate (or of which they simply were not aware). Ideally, that information empowers the way they do business around the world.

CR: How can the TEA contribute to long-term professional development?

Christine Kerr: The TEA Summit focuses on professional development through a business lens. The Day One sessions are curated to share trends and explore new topics that will have an impact on business practices. They provide attendees with a look at the “how” and “why” of doing business in the themed entertainment industry, with less focus on what the project might be. Day One is also an environment for frank and open conversation. 
Summit Day Two (Thea Case Studies) is one of the most incredible opportunities ever: to learn the story behind the development of a collection of very different experiences from around the globe, all being recognized with Thea awards for outstanding achievement in a given year. The attendees are provided with unparalleled access to insights and information that will inform the work they do, regardless of industry sector. 
SATE is TEA’s creative conference, looking at the various elements that come together to create great experiences: Storytelling + Architecture + Technology = Experience. SATE explores themes and trends and the varied ways experience creators are introducing new and interesting ideas into their work. 
SATE Academy Days combine the creative and business perspectives, in that they often combine site visits to attractions or experiences along with presentations by experience creators and owner operators. The SATE Academy Day program offers a look at the why, how and what of the themed entertainment industry. 
All these programs together, combined with 70+ other TEA events around the world throughout the year, provide attendees with a very well-rounded perspective of the industry and all that goes into creating compelling places and experiences. TEA will continue to develop and expand its educational offerings in response to the needs of the industry.



Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio

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Where Are They Now - Celebrating Three Decades of Children's Museum Design

April 04, 2017

 Over the past 30 years, JRA has had the honor and pleasure of working with children’s museums from Sioux City to Singapore. While they may be different in location and educational focus, all have the same mission – to engage and inspire youth.

Many of these museums were created and are still helmed by passionate volunteers, whose biggest reward is to see the smiles on their young visitors’ faces. We salute their spirit and applaud their dedication.

With the Association of Children's Museums InterActivity Conference just around the corner (May 3-5 in Pasadena), we revisit a selection of our children’s museum projects and celebrate the impact that they have had on kids in their communities and beyond.

Enginuity – Coalbrookdale, UK

Opening Date: August 2002 – Fifteenth Anniversary Year

Impact:Enginuity has been a great success, attracting a whole new audience to the museum," said Paul Gossage, Director of Marketing and PR at Enginuity. "Whilst aimed at younger visitors, we have found that the exhibits are engaging for children of all ages. Since we opened, we have welcomed thousands of visitors, including school children, grandparents, business people and members of the Royal Family, all of which have one thing in common - they love to learn by experimentation and have fun at the same time.”

Kohl Children's Museum - Glenview, Illinois

Opening Date: October 2005

Current Attendance/Membership: 315,000 visitors and 6,500 member families

Memorable Moments:

  • Hosting Interactivity - In 2007, the Museum co-hosted the Association of Children's Museums' InterActivity Conference, and officials from across the country and around the world go to tour the Museum and its exhibits. 
  • Ten Best - In 2011, the Museum was named one of the ten best children's museums in the country by Parents magazine. 


"Kohl Children's Museum is very proud of the impact we have had on the Glenview area," said Sheridan Turner, President & CEO. "With our new facility, we have been able to expand our outreach into under-resourced communities beyond just the inner city of Chicago, including often overlooked communities such as Waukegan, North Chicago, and Wheeling, which have great areas of need for services like ours. The Museum has become a community resource, drawing visitors and members from a 25-mile radius, bringing revenue to our local comunity. The Glen Town Center, a local shopping center just south of the Museum, reported a sustained boost in foot traffic shortly after the Museum opened."

Imaginosity, Dublin Children’s Museum – Dublin, Ireland

Opening Date: August 2007 – Tenth Anniversary Year

Annual Attendance: 100,000
"10 years ago, children’s museums were (and still are) a very new concept in Ireland, and Imaginosity STILL remains Ireland’s ONLY children’s museum. To welcome 1 million visitors within the first 10-year period felt like a very ambitious target to those involved in the introduction of Imaginosity (a relatively small children’s museum in global terms) to the Irish public.

Ahead of the museum’s 10-year target, to date one of the most memorable times, was realizing that incredible target (which in the museum's early days felt like a VERY ambitious one) had been achieved with over 1 MILLION visitors coming through the doors. A figure equal to 22% of the entire population of Ireland visiting the museum!"

Memorable Moment:

"Dublin Children’s Museum was asked to host the launch of one of Ireland’s newest children’s TV channels in 2016, 3e. Part of that launch was a giant party hosted by Imaginosity involving workshops, activities, museum exploration and a VERY special surprise guest appearance….all broadcast LIVE on national television from Imaginosity. Barney the Dinosaur made a surprise appearance that day to the children in attendance, and that moment was captured and broadcast LIVE. Watching the faces of the children on our museum lawn that day, as Barney walked out to greet them, will remain one of the museum's most memorable days to date (for some of our younger staff members also…proving you are never too old to meet a childhood hero!)."


"As previosly mentioned, Imaginosity is still Ireland’s ONLY dedicated interactive children’s museum, and in being so, offers children and their families a very unique space to play, create and learn in together. Our belief is that children learn best when they’re having fun, and so we continue to champion the ‘hands-on, minds-on’ philosophy that encourages all visitors to get involved and have FUN while learning…creating positive and lasting memories.

Whilst play-based learning is not a modern phenomenon, its benefits are receiving a fresh new wave of attention thanks to a wider general understanding and appreciation of how it can help childhood development, learning and social skills. We believe that whilst other play based facilties come and go, it is this solid basis that will keep Imaginosity, and what we do, relevant for years to come."

Note: Stay tuned for a 10th anniversary feature on Imaginosity in the JRA Blog, coming this August!

Golisano Children's Museum of Naples (C'mon) - Naples, Florida

Opening Date: February 2012 - Fifth Anniversary Year

Annual Attendance and Membership: 135,000 visitors and 2,100 member families. "Though we felt we had high estimates in the beginning, we have actually doubled that expectation in our attendance! This is a great representation of the high quality, family friendly experiences in our area." 

Memorable Moments: 

  • Year One - "With jam packed member previews, lines around the building, countless smiling families, the opening of a family engagement gem for our community started off with much fanfare. Since those first days, we often we see our regulars coming in for weekly, if not daily, visits! This shows us again the power of our community support and the need for C'mon's curiosity sparking educational activities."
  • Night at the Museum Fundraiser - "Our annual fundraiser has been a highlight every year with our unique approach to a traditional Gala! From our Big Wigs theme, where everyone dressed in costume with beautiful bouffants, Marley worthy dreads and rainbow afros, to our most recent Pirate Ball filled with cannon ball shooting, pirate naming and plenty of swashbuckling shenanigans! We are always making a memorable event where we put the fun into fundraising!
  • Happy Birthday, C'mon! - "We have had a great time celebrating 5 years. Within the museum we have designated a full month's worth of programming as Happy Birthday C'mon! From cake batter sensory play in our art studio to birthday candle and cupcake fuse bead creations in our Curious Kids space and many more daily activities, families have had a great time not only making birthday items but also learning the science behind them!"
  • Celebrating C'mon Staff - "Throughout our 5 years of growth, we continue to be inspired by our staff! Being the foundation of our guest experiences, these play specialists, programs developers and teachers, and fundraising innovators, we are so lucky to have such a strong team of passionate individuals. Though we are just getting out of our toddler years, we look back at those bumps, bruises and also great milestones that every toddler has. Through all of the ups and downs of every start up, our staff continues to shine in a special way that makes C'mon better and better every day."


"C'mon has developed into a brain building powerhouse powered by STEAM based activities and experiences. Naples' families have shown us time and time again that C'mon is an asset to the community with repeat attendance, financial support and enthusiasm for our mission. The education of our local children is complimented with innovative and engaging exhibits and activities that only C'mon can present.

The cooperation and collaboration with so many business partners, fellow non-profits, and local organizations also shows us that C'mon is a leader in the economy. By providing not only employment and revenue into our local area, the Museum has made a strong effort to highlight local partners and tourism destinations for the betterment of the community as a whole!" 

KidsSTOP™ at Science Centre Singapore

Opening Date: June 2014

Annual Attendance: 190,000. Science Centre Singapore has capped memberships, currently at 6,000, to ensure an optimal experience.

Memorable Moments: 

"The pleasure of seeing happy children enjoying themselves, playing and learning, is beyond words. When they see science come alive at KidsSTOP™ via the exhibits, coupled with our passionate educators’ efforts, children are able to form a strong emotional connection. From our statistics, many children come once every two months, so this is especially pleasing and testament to the development team’s vision."


"KidsSTOP™ is Singapore’s first and only children’s science center for ages 8 years old and below. With an exclusive 3,000-square-meter gallery built to encourage playful exploration, KidsSTOP™ provides a safe and exciting learning environment for children to discover the wonders of the world. Last year we added the Oceans’ Buddies Exhibit, a first-of-its-kind virtual ocean, with sea creatures in 3-dimensional form to educate children on marine life and how they can do their part to protect the environment. More recently, we unveiled the PlayMaker Studio @ KidsSTOP™ in collaboration with Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), aimed at providing a community space for children to dabble in hands-on maker activities involving an exciting array of tech toys and tools."

Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum – Peoria, Illinois

Opening Date: June 2015

Annual Attendance: 87,000 visitors, 2,000 member families

Memorable Moments: Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum offered us a plethora of “PlayHouse Stories.” Here are a few:

  • • When two-year old Chester visited the PlayHouse, he imagined himself as a farmer, like his father, an engineer, like his uncle, and a teacher, like his aunt. He drove a train like his great uncle, and learned about his uncle’s work in fisheries as he splashed in the water table. As he tried on all of these roles, Chester strengthened connections with his family and was inspired by their chosen careers.
  • • Sarah* has sensory processing disorder, which made her first visit to the PlayHouse uncomfortable. But she loves to build, and found the magnetic marble run and Real Tools areas of the PlayHouse compelling enough to spend time there, despite the visual and auditory disturbance. In fact, Sarah loves these areas enough to visit the PlayHouse over and over again, honing her interest in engineering, and inspiring her to have an engineering-themed fifth birthday party.
  • • When the Jones family* attended Celebrate Peoria in February, they did not know much about Asian culture, or the tradition of celebrating Lunar New Year. At the PlayHouse, they experienced traditions related to Lunar New Year from a variety of Asian countries. They tried on clothes and experimented with calligraphy from China. They tasted candies from Vietnam. And they made Korean “Jegichagi” toys to bring home. The family left the museum having learned a great deal, and – perhaps even more importantly – interested in learning more. Cara Jones told the PlayHouse, “My kids asked lots of questions and were exposed to a range of diversity that we don’t often encounter in our normal day-to-day. I’m inspired to seek out more of Peoria’s Asian culture.”
  • * Names changed


When it came to the Peoria PlayHouse’s impact on the community, the Museum thought it best for local families to do the talking:

  • • “There was plenty to do for both my 3 and 11 year old! We were there for 2.5 hours but felt like minutes, we didn't even get to all the exhibits. We bought a year family pass so we can explore next time! Great family day out!”
  • • “I absolutely LOVE the Peoria Playhouse! We got a membership and so far our kids have yet to get bored or not have something fun to do! Kudos Peoria!”
  • • “This is a phenomenal addition to Peoria. Bring your kids and watch as their creativity is ignited!”
  • • “Awesome place for kids under 6. Well worth the membership for our long winters. My kids love the sand table and water table. Thank you to all the people who make this place possible!”
  • • “Just what the Peoria area needed for our children. We always have fun when we visit.”

Lao Niu Children’s Discovery Museum of the CNCC – Beijing, China


Opening Date: June 1, 2015 (National Children’s Day)

Annual Attendance: 180,0000 (versus originally projected attendance of 160,000)

Memorable Moments:

  • Opening Day - "Delegates from the All-China Women's Federation, China's public welfare institute of Beijing Normal University, Hawaii Children's discovery center and Lao Niu Foundation attended the opening ceremony of the museum. Loretta Yajima, the Chair and the Board of Directors of Hawaii Children's Discovery, delivered the Certificate from the governors of Hawaii and the chair of Honolulu."
  • Children +365 - "On August 4th, 2016, the museum held the launching ceremony of public project “Children+365” for families of children with such conditions as infantile autism, brain paralysis, as well as children who are differently abled or the hearing impaired. The museum invites 365 of these children’s families to play in the museum to encourage their development. The museum also provides professional mentoring services and support to the group."
  • Building Bridges - "On November 19, 2016, a family day of cultural communication between China and the U.S. was jointly hosted by the museum and U.S. Embassy. Alan Clark, vice culture commissioner of U.S. Embassy, attended the program. The program promotes the cultural communication between Chinese and American families, and it is also the platform for Chinese and American children to enhance understanding and deepen friendship."   


"CNCC is the one and only national-level extracurricular educational institute with various functions such as applied scientific research, child hobbies and interest cultivation, educational activities and public services, and is also the window through which China communicate and cooperate with foreign countries on child-related affairs."

Children’s Museum of Atlanta (Georgia)

Re-opening Date: December 2015

Post 2015 Renovation Annual Attendance and Membership: 230,000 visitors and 4,231 member families (versus 170,000 visitors and 3,000 members pre-renovation)

Memorable Moments: "The rocket launcher is a favorite with children and adults, some of my favorite times have been watching moms and dads help their children aim to launcher so they can hit a planet and travel to Jupiter!  The augmented reality sand table is another favorite, as we watch families play in the sand and the adults slowly realize that it shows the topography – and then let the kids know what is up!" 

Impact: “The renovation of the Children’s Museum has opened up our audience,” said Karen Kelly, Director of Exhibits and Education. “Our earlier exhibition design really met the needs of children 5 and under, the current design provides something for all the children in our age range, from 0-9!  This has broadened the number of families who visit, as well as expanded our field trip audience.”

“Adding STEM to all spaces has also made a huge difference, as it really permits scaffolding the learning, aging it up or down.  Children love the Globe they can climb into, the amazing Café and Step Up To Science.  The renovation has made a huge difference in our range of programming as well.  We have had a great first year since re-opening.”

LaunchPAD Children’s Museum – Sioux City, Iowa

Opening Date: February 2016 – Happy First Birthday!

Annual Attendance: 93,717 in first year, with 2,500 member families, versus a Year One goal of 50,000 and 600, respectively!

Memorable Moments:

  • A Warm Welcome - "The overwhelming positive response of the community to everything about the museum, especially the exhibits, was so gratifying for the volunteers and others who worked on this project for so many years."
  • Fun For Everyone - "Parents and grandparents really like the open layout, which allows them to keep tabs on the little ones as well as the older kids who want a little more freedom."
  • Serving the Community - "Fulfilling the promise of economic development in this neighborhood is a big achievement. Three properties to the south of LaunchPAD are now being redeveloped, and a park is being installed this year across the street. The number of out of town guests we had all summer long and during every holiday period showed the value of LaunchPAD to the economic well-being of Sioux City."

Impact: "LaunchPAD is improving the quality of life for families in Sioux City and the entire region,” said Bob Fitch, Executive Director. “LaunchPAD is proud to be Siouxland’s champion for educational play and discovery!"

LaunchPAD Executive Director Bob Fitch is pictured with board member Regina Roth. Bob was dressed for the museum’s first birthday, which had a superhero theme. But it’s Regina who is the real superhero as the top donor and fundraiser for LaunchPAD Children’s Museum.


While JRA has enjoyed working collaboratively with all of these organizations, as noted in the photo above, it is the staff, volunteers, board, donors, supporters, and families of these museums who are the true superheroes. We salute their commitment to children’s education, and we look forward to celebrating the continued success of these museums for many years into the future.


Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

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