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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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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27 Inches to Life Size - Transforming a Design Into a Built Reality

March 24, 2017

Rachel Daheim, Designer

Rachel Daheim, Designer

We've have a special treat for our blog readers today as designer Rachel Daheim shares the experience of her first project installation.


As a young designer at JRA I have the opportunity to work on a variety of exciting projects throughout their design phases. From visioning documents, storyboards, renderings, schematic drawings, shop drawings, architectural plans and more, I get to see almost the entire life span of a project unfold on my 27” computer screen. Recently, I was given the opportunity to step away from my desk and to participate in the final phase of a project's life, the install. Being able to work on a project throughout the design process and then to see it come full circle, not to mention full scale, has been an incredible journey.

This journey began almost a year ago when myself and several other members of the JRA design team traveled to Daytona, Florida to meet with representatives of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America or MSHFA. We toured their newly acquired facility, located just a few yards from the famous Daytona Speedway. The design brief was to take this new facility and create a series of exhibits and galleries that encompassed the full spectrum of motorsports: cars, motorcycles, off-road, powerboats and airplanes. Our goal was to embody the spirit of racing and create a place that would pay tribute the drivers and operators of the fastest machines in America.

This was a very exciting project to work on. The design team faced many unique challenges throughout the project, including suspending historic cars 30 feet into the air, mounting speedboats on top of walls, and placing several racing vehicles on a stretch of track banked at 45 degrees in the center of the museum.


After weeks of supporting the project from behind my computer screen in Ohio, I was asked to travel to Florida and participate in installing the final gallery, which was a total thrill. The design for the final gallery grew out of a collaborative effort between the MSHFA and the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. It would showcase the life’s work of Hot Rod magazine owner and creator, Robert E. Petersen, and the impact he had on the world of racing.


On the first day of the instillation, we arrived on site to find that our staging area was to be shared with catering services, a demolition pile of old exhibits, and various props and displays from the Daytona Speedway. JRA Art Director and project lead, David Ferguson, was unfazed and wasted no time in organizing and setting a plan in motion. Before I knew it, teams of fabricators, lighting designers, technicians, and AV designers filled the gallery.

I had always imagined an install to progress in a sequential series of defined phases. For example…

Phase 1: Lay the carpet
Phase 2: Install artifacts in the case
Phase 3: Hang lights and focus on case
Phase 4: Incorporate AV and sound

It was quite a shock to find that most of these task progress simultaneously. Carpet being laid, fabricators were arranging artifact cases, and the lighting team was on ladders hanging lights - all at the same time in the same space! The work was done at a fast pace but executed very precisely. So I began the task of learning the complex dance of working amidst the various teams moving in and out, working around, over, and under each other while carrying out their assorted tasks. I could see that there was a method to the organized chaos, but it was not until day three I felt that I could keep up with the pros.

One of my first tasks on sit was to work with David to unpack the large crate of artifacts we received from the Petersen Automotive Museum. It was a unique learning experience to witness the extremely carful and thoughtful consideration that goes into the arrangement of each artifact. It was exciting to carefully handling each delicate article as we strategized their arrangement.

On the final day of the install, our staged artifacts had to be carefully moved to the gallery and placed inside the display case. This was easer said then done. The case itself was suspended 10’ in the air and some distance away from the elevated walk way. It was quite the scene seeing our amazing fabrication team from Nassal send a member into the suspended case and then, through carful instruction, set each artifact in place. Final, all that was left was to lift an extremely heavy panel of glass up over the railing and set it into the case. This extremely difficult feat had to be done with out nudging or knocking the artifacts out of place. We all held our breath as Nassal’s entire team lifted the heavy glass and inched it slowly into position. The panel was locked into place and the artifact case was sealed. It was a great end to a busy install.

The finalized gallery was incredible to walk through and see first hand. But even more rewarding was seeing all the different moving parts, the various team members, and the process of the physical creation during the install. It was an unbelievable experience to be apart of the final chapter of the design process and see what had only been a 27-inch drawing on a computer screen, come to life.



Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team

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Designing with Flair: A Fresh New Look for the JRA Studio

February 21, 2017

After 10 years of wear and tear, and upon renewing our commitment to Downtown Cincinnati with a new long-term lease, we decided to freshen up our studio with new paint, carpet and accessories. JRA Art Director, David Ferguson, explains the design philosophy behind the look:

"While retaining the unique atmosphere of JRA’s open studio plan, we chose a warmer neutral palette to play off strong paint color accents of Carnival, Peppercorn, Stay in Lime, and Passionate Purple. Designer Rachel Daheim worked with Interface Carpet and designed a basket weave pattern of Skinny Plank carpet with the same color accents in the woven carpet material. New artwork was brought in to provide additional dimension, and images of our past projects brightened up our work space and reminded us why we do what we do everyday. 

All in all, by reassigning the accent palette and juicing up the color intensity, we have given a more jubilant look to our workplace, making our work environment as cutting edge as our design attitude."

Enjoy the photos, or better yet, why not pay us a visit?


Tags: JRA Journeys

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