2016 ACM Scholarship Recipients Celebrate Collective Impact of Children's Museums

May 11, 2016

JRA Digital Engagement Director, Clara Rice (left) with the 2016 ACM InterActivity scholarship recipients (L to R) - Jessica Bickford-Manson, Holly Cheeseman, Traci Winscot and Lisa Phelps (Kathy Parham not pictured)

JRA Digital Engagement Director, Clara Rice (left) with the 2016 ACM InterActivity scholarship recipients (L to R) - Jessica Bickford-Manson, Holly Cheeseman, Traci Winscot and Lisa Phelps (Kathy Parham not pictured)

Last week, hundreds of children's museum professionals met for the Association of Children's Museums' InterActvity 2016: Collective Impact, in Stamford, Connecticut. During this three-day conference, participants could peruse the show floor at the Museum Marketplace, engage in roundtable discussions, connect at networking events, and soak in the knowledge offered by childhood education experts from across the country and round the world.

Since 2008, ACM has offered its Small Museums Financial Aid program to offset professional development expenses for museum staff at open children's museums with annual budgets under $500,000. And since 2008, JRA has been a proud sponsor of this program. Through the program, ACM and JRA wish to cultivate staff members at small museums for long-term careers in the children's museum field. The program offered scholarship recipients free registration to Interactivity 2016 and tickets to the Welcome Dinner and Opening Reception.

The scholarship also provided recipients complimentary admission to Collective Impact Live!, a new take on programming inspired by the Stepping Stones Museum for Children's take on collective impact. Collective Impact Live! was an opportunity for attendees to deeply engage in a critical issue facing children everywhere—the achievement gap. The program began with an interactive session modeled after a New England town meeting at the Norwalk Concert Hall and was followed by Norwalk’s Ultimate Block Party, a model demonstration of how children’s museums can leverage their expertise and relationships to prevent summer learning loss. The Block Party featured dance, music, Cinco de Mayo-inspired food for community members of all ages, as well as an exclusive opportunity for conference attendees to peruse the Museum.

"ACM was thrilled when JRA approached us with the idea of the Small Museum Scholarship back in 2008, and we are happy that the scholarship has become one of the Association's most valued member benefits," said Laura Heurta Migus, ACM Executive Director. "Through this program, 45 individuals from 40 ACM member museums have been able to participate in InterActivity, ACM's signatiure professional development event. Museums with annual budgets under $500,000 are valued members of the children's museum community, making up more than 50 percent of ACM's membership. They're doing innovative and important work in their communities, and JRA's continued support of the Small Museum Scholarship Program shows just how dedicated the firm is to the children's museum field!"

This year's recipients were:

Congratulations to the scholarship recipients, and we look forward to working with you in the future!



Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Out in Space and Under the Sea - Join JRA for Houston SATE Academy Day

April 12, 2016

On April 27th and 28th, industry professionals from across the country will gather for the Themed Entertainment Association’s first-ever event in Texas, USA. This SATE Academy Day, entitled “Out in Space and Under the Sea” and hosted by the TEA’s Eastern North America Division, will feature three of Houston and Galveston’s most popular venues over two days and showcase never before seen technologies. Tickets for this one-of-a-kind experience are available now, and spots are limited.
About SATE and SATE Academy Days

The SATE acronym stands for Story + Architecture + Technology = Experience. TEA produces an annual SATE conference and, throughout the year, a series of SATE Academy Days. A popular SATE Academy Day format is the "day out" in a city with multiple attractions, such as Houston. These events are produced by industry professionals for industry professionals, introducing them to each other, the TEA and the great work that themed entertainment companies are creating and producing around the world.

“Houston, We Have a Shuttle” – Launching Day One at Independence Plaza

To begin the two days of events, guests will be shuttled via bus from the Moody Gardens Hotel in Galveston to spend an afternoon at Space Center Houston.

Since opening in 1992, Space Center Houston has welcomed more than 18 million visitors and currently hosts nearly 1 million visitors annually in its 183,000-square-foot educational entertainment complex. It is one of Houston’s top attractions, the area’s No. 1 attraction for international visitors, the Official Visitor Center of NASA Johnson Space Center and the only Smithsonian Affiliate in the greater Houston area.

This past January, Space Center Houston unveiled its largest project since that 1992 opening – the $14 million Independence Plaza. Visitors can enter the shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft (SCA), and then explore the giant plane. It is the world’s only shuttle mounted on an SCA and the only one allowing the public to enter both.

Images of Indpendence Plaza courtesy Space Center Houston

After enjoying a complimentary lunch in the Space Center’s café, SATE Academy Day guests will be given a tour of Independence Plaza, followed by a panel discussion with representatives from Space Center Houston and the Independence Plaza creative team, including JRA Senior Project Designer, Rick O’Connell. They will also have time to explore some of the Center’s more than 400 space artifacts, exhibits, attractions and theaters before heading back to Galveston for dine-arounds at restaurants throughout the city.

JRA is a proud sponsor of the TEA's visit to Space Center Houston, alongside our friends and colleagues at Boston Productions, Inc. (bpi).

To Infinity and Beyond – True8K™ Technology at the Burke Baker Planetarium

On March 11, the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Burke Baker Planetarium became the world’s first True8K™ planetarium, displaying full-dome star fields and movies with over 500 million pixels. To begin Day Two of Houston SATE Academy Day, guests will be treated to a private demonstration and discussion on this groundbreaking technology with Dr. Carolyn Sumners, HMNS President for Astronomy, and Michael Daut of Evans and Sutherland.

Produced by Evans and Sutherland, the Digistar 5, the world's premiere digital planetarium system, uses 20 state-of-the-art graphics processing computers to feed ten 4K projectors with the equivalent of 40 HD streams at 60 frames per second or faster. E&S has developed proprietary auto alignment and auto blending technology to combine images from the ten projectors into one seamless scene across the entire dome with no visible blends.

Image courtesy Evans and Sutherland

The Digistar projected image has a contrast ratio of up to 20,000:1. According to Dr. Sumners, "the system can produce a night sky as dark, clear and crisp as the skies of West Texas, the Rockies, or the African savannah, giving Houstonians the rich night sky experience that has been lost to city dwellers."

After the planetarium show and discussion, guests will tour the Museum’s Wiess Energy Hall and enjoy lunch on their own in the surrounding neighborhood.

This visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science is made possible by Evans and Sutherland.

Pineapples Under the Sea – Moody Gardens and SpongeBob SubPants

Once they return to Moody Gardens, guests are free to explore the park on their own. Later in the afternoon, visitors will be treated to a complimentary, private screening of Moody Garden’s latest attraction, the SpongeBob SubPants Adventure. The SpongeBob SubPants Adventure at Moody Gardens combines 3D film, 4D effects, a live performer, and a real-time animated character who interacts with guests - all in an attraction which allows the audience to choose their destination on a delightful undersea journey.

Image courtesy Nickelodeon

Beginning with a preshow, which features touch tanks and educational interactive exhibits, guests soon enter the submarine "Le Plunger" (a 4D theater) to experience a simulated descent to Bikini Bottom, where an animated Patrick Starr from the SpongeBob SquarePants series helps them decide where they want to travel. SpongeBob SubPants was recently recognized with a 2016 Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement.

The different elements combine to evoke the world of SpongeBob SquarePants to quirky and comical effect, all in perfect sync with the characters and sensibility of the franchise. The attraction uses the new Geppetto Animation Control System (which also received a 2016 Thea Award) to achieve the seamless integration of the real time animated character in the show.
Following the show, members of the creative team will discuss their processes in putting together this first-of-its-kind media experience.

The SpongeBob SubPants viewing is made possible by The Nassal Company and Nickelodeon.

Texas Welcomes the TEA

To close Houston SATE Academy Day, Texas TEA companies will welcome guests with a mixer at the Moody Gardens Hotel.

“One of the most fun aspects of organizing this event has been engaging with representatives from TEA’s Texas companies,” said JRA's Clara Rice, Eastern Division Vice President and event co-organizer. “They are so excited to have TEA in the Lone Star State, and we look forward to introducing these companies to each other, our guests and the TEA at large.”

“As a long standing TEA member, who most commonly participates at events on the East or West Coast, we are extremely excited to have a SATE Academy Day and a TEA Mixer event coming to our home state of Texas,” said Grady Brown, President of iZone Imaging. “It's our pleasure and honor to help support this event, and we look forward to showing our infamous Texas hospitality.”

“I’m sure I speak for all regional TEA members in saying how excited we are to host SATE Academy Day in Houston,” added Joe Pedigo of Marilyn Systems, LLC.  “We at Marilyn Systems hope that this is just the first of many TEA events and look forward to welcoming y’all to Texas!”

This mixer is sponsored by Fountain People, iZone Imaging, Longhorn Organics, Marilyn Systems, SRO Associates, and Worlds of Wow!

Join Us!
“The TEA’s strong growth over the past few years has greatly increased our membership outside of our traditional hubs in Orlando and Los Angeles,” said Scott Gill, TEA Eastern North America Division President.  “Exploring groundbreaking projects in cities like Houston allows regional members to showcase their work and all of us to forge new relationships.  As the number of regional members grows, regional events become more frequent, providing further opportunities for all of our members to connect.”

Register now by clicking here. Tickets are $50 and include admissions to Space Center Houston, Burke Baker Planetarium, HMNS and SpongeBob SubPants, all tours, Wednesday lunch, Thursday breakfast, mixer hors d’oeuvres and other treats. A discounted hotel rate of $149 is available at the Moody Gardens Hotel, and the bus will only service the host hotel.


Tags: JRA Journeys , Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Keith James - Tales from an Unbelievable Life

April 09, 2016

“Who could have written this script?”

Forty-five years ago, JRA CEO Keith James took a summer job at Kings Island theme park with his friend and mentor, Jack Rouse. He could have never known the adventures, experiences and friendships that would follow, and the lives he would touch along the way.

Last weekend at the Disneyland Hotel, Keith James received one of the industry’s highest honors – the 2016 Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements.

This week, you've heard Jack Rouse and others recount the history and celebrate the character of Keith James. Today, in excerpts from his Summit Keynote address and Thea Award acceptance speech, Keith offers his lessons learned and thanks all those responsible for his “unbelievable life.”

On the Wisdom Gained from His Mother

  • “Work hard.”
  • “Be fair.”
  • “Give credit where credit is due.”
  • “Don’t lie, because then you have to remember what you said.”
  • “Always say ‘yes’.”

On Lessons Learned from His Years as an Elite Swimmer in the 1960s

  • “You’d better prop yourself up with people who are better than you. Give them credit when things go right, and fiercely defend them when things go wrong.”
  • “I was the anchor, but if the other three guys weren’t good, we wouldn’t win.”

Keith shares his story with Season Pass Podcast.

On Education and the Early Influence of Jack Rouse

  • “I was a great athlete and a terrible student.”
  • “I had no future. No ideas. No desires."
  • “I didn’t want to go to Vietnam, so I went to college instead.”
  •  “My mother was Jack’s secretary. Jack decided to put together a theatre program at UC. I joined the program for technical theater as the guinea pig student and went from almost failing out to the Dean’s List.”
  • “Jack taught me how to ride a motorcycle. In 1970, I spent 10 weeks riding through the country and sleeping in tents. I left with $650 and didn’t even use all of it. Those of you who know me know that I will spend $650 on a dinner, probably with some of you.”
  • “In the autumn of 1971, before the park opened, I joined Jack at Kings Island as a production stage manager. I just needed a summer job to pay for college.”
  • “My 45th anniversary in the business is this November, and I still have the letter from Jack Rouse offering me the job at Kings Island.”

Jack Rouse

On Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

  • “In 1987, I was asked by Mike Bartlett to come to Florida and work on this park called Universal Orlando. I asked him what I would be doing, and he said ‘I have no idea.’ I asked him when he needed me, and he said, ‘tomorrow.’ I moved to Orlando from Sydney two weeks later.”
  • “Jack started JRA in 1987. In 1991, he and his partner Amy decided they wanted to get back into the theme park world from the corporate world. Jack asked me if I wanted to come back to Cincinnati. My contract with Universal was up, so I said yes. I became a partner in 1992.”
  • “I was in the room a lot when people asked, ‘can you do this,’ and my answer was always ‘yes’.”

Keith shows what's under his famous hat.

On Providing a Great Guest Experience

  • “You can see things; you can hear things; you can smell things; but you can’t always feel things. We need to make people feel things.”
  • “Second guess everything – not from the standpoint of being negative, but from a standpoint of ‘what if.’ Always have a contingency plan and ask questions.”
  • “I don’t think in terms of ‘American’ or ‘international’. I think of the guests. People just want to be entertained.”
  • “People know I'm an American because of my passports.”
  • “Body language is the same everywhere. The smile tells the story.”
  • “We use what we’ve learned as tech support to tell the guest’s story. It’s not our story – it’s their story.”

On Friendships

  • “I have been the beneficiary of unbelievable experiences, unbelievable friendships.”
  • “I have spent most of my life relying upon my friends.”

 Keith's many friends sum him up in one word.

On Family

  • “When I was at Kings Island as a production stage manager, a beautiful dancer auditioned. Her name was Patti. I eventually got the nerve to propose, and we married 7 years later.”
  • “My family said to me, ‘we’re never going to try to talk you out of it.’”
  • “My daughters asked me, ‘are you taking a car or a plane for work?’ If I was taking a car, that meant I’d be home for dinner. If I was taking a plane, then I was probably home for the weekend.”
  • “I've tried to never miss one of Chloe's soccer games, one of Lexi’s football game performances or one of Patti’s shows in 45 years.”
  • “Yes, I have flown nine and a half million miles, but [Patti] has flown every one of them with me.”

The James Family

On Receiving the Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements

  • “I was overwhelmed by this. I was in the Salt Lake City Airport when I got the call from Bob Ward [third from right in the photo below] saying I was going to receive this award. I was a weeping mess in the airport. I was traveling with Chloe, and she, not knowing what had happened, asked ‘do we need to go home?’ Getting this award was the furthest thing from my mind.”
  • “There’s something unfair about receiving this award. I’ve had an unbelievable life because of all of you, not me. This award is for you, not me. But you can’t take home the statue.”

From left: Keith James, Shawn McCoy, Jack Rouse, Bob Ward, Nick Winslow, Chloe James Hausfeld

On Luck and Gratitude

  • “I am the last person to expect to have had such a lucky life.”
  • “I traveled to the Grand Canyon on my motorcycle trip. As I was gazing out at it, I noticed a father describing the canyon to his son. His son was blind. I learned at that moment never to take anything for granted. It is a moment that has stayed with me my entire life.”
  • “Forty-five years ago I needed a summer job, and I still have it. I’ve been lucky that the industry has grown up around me.”
  •  “This business has allowed me to see the world, meet my wife, meet my business partners. My daughters [Alexis and Chloe] have been born in interesting places [Vancouver and Sydney, respectively].”
  • “I support IAAPA and the TEA because I feel an obligation. I owe you – look at what you’ve let me do.”
  •  “I have loved every minute of every day.”

On the Future

  • “I’ve had a wonderful career. I hope it’s not over.”
  • “Let’s go chase another windmill.”

“That’s my story. Patti thought you all would be interested to hear it.”

Patti and Keith James
JRA congratulates all of the 2016 Thea Award recipients and thanks the TEA for a wonderful weekend of events.

About the Thea Awards and the Buzz Price Thea Award for a Lifetime of Distinguished Achievements
The Thea Awards began in 1994 with a single Lifetime Achievement Award, and the first recipient was Harrison “Buzz” Price, pioneer in economic feasibility for entertainment projects. After Buzz passed away in 2010, the award was renamed in his honor.

To view the video of Keith's Summit Day One Keynote Address, visit TEA TV. For JRA’s photos and videos from the TEA Summit Weekend and Thea Awards, visit our Facebook page.


Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Motorcycles, Airline Miles and TEA Myths - Jack Rouse Honors Keith James

April 05, 2016

Jack Rouse, Keith James and JRA COO Dan Schultz have worked together for over 40 years. Photo courtesy Themed Entertainment Association

Jack Rouse, Keith James and JRA COO Dan Schultz have worked together for over 40 years. Photo courtesy Themed Entertainment Association

Many friends, family and colleagues have lauded Keith James over the past few days in celebration of his Thea Lifetime Achievement Award from the Themed Entertainment Association. But perhaps the most heartfelt tribute came from the man who gave Keith his career and the 45 years of memories that have come with it. That man is Jack Rouse, founder of JRA and a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient in his own right.

Here is Jack's tribute to Keith as written in the Thea Awards program, which offers a history of the life and times of this respected leader.


If you are in the themed entertainment business or are in any way involved with the Themed Entertainment Association, then you know the name of Keith James. And if you are like many of your colleagues, the words that came to mind when describing Keith are likely to be: honest, great integrity, thoughtful, loyal, consummate businessman, straight as an arrow. And while those words are all true, they are also part of a TEA myth, because such was not always the case.


Jack Rouse and Keith James

When Keith was 17, he had his driver's license suspended for drag racing with his girlfriend in a buddy's Corvette. In 1970, he embraced then-prevalent hippie culture and - perhaps channeling Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper - embarked on a 10-week, 15,000-mile motorcycle trip across the United States. It was on that trip that Keith visited Disneyland - is that where the infatuation with themed entertainment began? Who knows?

In the 1960s, he was a fiercely competitive swimmer, garnering numerous regional and state awards for the Cincinnati Marlins, an elite swim team. (Yes, Keith was once an "elitist"). And while doing all that, he graduated from Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, entered the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he did not study piano, but rather earned a BFA in technical theater. "Nervous nights lighting Man of La Mancha," his brother Sandy remembers. He graduated in 1970 and shortly thereafter went to work for Taft Broadcasting. Taft had recently acquired Coney Island in Cincinnati and Hanna-Barbera in Hollywood as foundational elements for a theme park they were just beginning to build in Ohio.

Patti and Keith James

There, he became production manager for the live shows program and later assistant director of operations. While auditioning performers for the first year of the live shows program, an aspiring young performer named Patti Schmitz entered his life. Mythology has it that she may have stretched the truth about her age to get the gig; in any case, she was hired and a few years later became Mrs. Harry Keithan James. During the early years of the Taft parks, Keith and some colleagues formed Kings Productions, which for many years was the creative division of the Taft family of theme parks.


A few years later, Taft's theme park expansion began. In 1979, Keith was re-assigned to Toronto as the Director of Planning and Development for Canada's Wonderland, later becoming Director of Park Operations.


In 1983, Keith trekked across the continent (this time not in a motorcycle) to Vancouver, where he became Vice President of Operations for Expo '86. More importantly, it was in Vancouver that Keith and Patti's eldest daughter, Alexis, was born.

Keith, Lexi, Patti and Chloe James


Keith remained with the Expo organization only a short time - in 1983, Taft recruited him back to the fold and sent him to Sydney, Australia to become Managing Director of Australia's Wonderland. It was in Sydney that Keith and Patti's youngest daughter Chloe was born.


Wanderlust set in again in 1987, when Universal Studios hired Keith as Vice President of Show Production for Universal Studios Florida. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to Senior Vice President of Planning and Development.


Then in 1992, Keith returned to Cincinnati to join Jack Rouse Associates. Now known as JRA, he remains there today as CEO/Owner.

Keith has spent his professional life moving from gig to gig. From Cincinnati to Toronto to Vancouver to Sydney to Orlando to Cincinnati: 

Solving problems, creating a better place, taking the best from where he worked and leaving the rest behind. In view of that first, momentous 1970s motorcycle trip that started in Cincinnati, maybe there's some thematic symbolism here: shooting for the stars, aiming for the best, constantly learning, constantly improving...at least, that's what his sister Carrie remembers (full disclosure: brother Sandy and sister Carrie are twins - not relevant, but interesting).

Keith has always made the most of opportunities to be activiely involved with the important associations of the industry: the TEA (several years as president) and IAAPA (board of directors). And in spite of the revocation of his driver's license for drag racing, and in spite of a 1970s biker/hippie image, Keith has become one of the themed entertainment industry's most respected leaders. His entire professional career has been in themed entertainment, and his passion for the industry is evident to all who know him.

What might not be quite as evident, unless you know Keith well, is his passion for his wife and two daughters. That should probably earn him an award that recognizes a lifetime of achievements in supporting those whom he loves.

For more on the 2016 Thea Awards, visit www.teaconnect.org. For photos of Keith's keynote address and acceptance speech, as well as Jack's presentation of the award, visit our Facebook page.

In our next blog post, Keith tells his story in his own words, imparting his wisdom along the way.

Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Industry Leaders Gather in St. Louis for the Grand Hall Experience

January 20, 2016

Last week, over 115 industry leaders from around the country gathered for the Themed Entertainment Association's Grand Hall Experience Mixer at St. Louis Union Station. JRA was a proud sponsor of the event and enjoyed introducing TEA members to this award-winning project.

Grand Hall Mixer Sponsors - Back row from left: Dan Moalli of Technomedia, Shawn McCoy of JRA, Larry Howard of CHRISTIE, Steve Birket (President of the TEA), Steve O'Loughlin of Lodging Hospitality Management, and Al Cross of PGAV Destinations. Front row from left: Heather Brinkley-Lodispoto of Technomedia, Tammie Richards (TEA Event Coordinator), and Jennie Nevin (TEA COO). Photo courtesy Martin Palicki for TEA.

On the day it opened in 1894, Union Station was the largest and busiest train station in the world, and it required a train shed with the largest roof span in the world to accommodate its 42 tracks, which served 100,000 passengers per day. Union Station’s Grand Hall, with its vaulted ceiling, would embrace millions of personal stories, from the revelry of visitors celebrating St. Louis’ 1904 World’s Fair to the reunion of soldiers with their families after World War II.  But with the aviation industry literally taking flight in the 1950s and 60s, and despite its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1970, Union Station and its Grand Hall began to fall into disrepair and neglect. In 2012, Lodging Hospitality Management (LHM) purchased the property and were tasked with finding unique ways to drive visitation to Union Station’s new hotel, dining, and shopping options while still maintaining the Grand Hall’s historic character.

The solution to this challenge became a first-of-its kind projection mapping experience. Projected on the Grand Hall’s 65-foot tall ceilings and across the entire space, this 3D experience is comprised of 30 vignettes, all stretching the barrier of creative design, innovation and historical storytelling. Visitors can take in the remarkable animation in vivid color with music and narration of historical portions provided by television and film personalities closely connected to St. Louis, including John Goodman, Jon Hamm, Bob Costas. Because the show differs slightly with every hourly evening performance, visitors have reason to experience this kaleidoscope of images again and again.

JRA provided concept and scripting for Union Station’s Grand Hall Experience, with media produced by Technomedia. The multimedia attraction received the TEA's 2015 Thea Award and the 2014 IAAPA Brass Ring Award.

Attendees of the TEA Grand Hall Mixer had the opportunity to mix and mingle with the Association's International and Divisional Board Members, who were in town for the annual TEA Strategic Planning Meeting. They were also treated to appetizers, beverages, special presentations of the Grand Hall Experience Show vignettes, and a presentation from Stephen O'Loughlin of LHMC, Shawn McCoy of JRA and Nathaniel of Technomedia.

Couldn't make it to the event? Here's a look at how the Grand Hall Experience was created, as well as some excerpts from the show.

Many thanks to the TEA, the event sponsors, and Leisure Hospitality Management for hosting a wonderful networking event. Check back next week for an opening announcement that is truly out of this world...

Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team , Outside the Studio , Project Spotlight

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!