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 Shawn!


Years at JRA? 23

Hometown? Wilmington, Ohio (population 12,459)

Age That You First Went to A Museum? 8, visiting the Clinton County Historical Museum with my first-grade class. I remember being so interested in seeing all of the historical artifacts and being fascinated by the history of my hometown. I get the same feeling to this day when I visit museums.

Rombach House - Clinton County Historical Society

Favorite Childhood Attraction? The woods behind my family's farm, spending all day exploring with my dog by my side.

Favorite Museum Experience (As a Visitor)? The City Museum in St. Louis. Bold, colorful, artistic, visionary.

Best Thing About the Industry...that our job is about providing people with smiles and memories that will last a lifetime.

The Part of My Career I Enjoy the Most Is...the people I work with, the people I get to meet, the places I get to go and all of the museums, attractions, and theme parks I get to see. 

Do You Collect Anything? If So, What? Hotel keycards. I've got a glass vase that's filled with them. 

Favorite Cartoon Character? Scooby Doo. In enjoyed watching him when I was a kid, and now I get to watch him and the Mystery Incorporated gang all over again with my kids. 

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...

Tags: JRA Team

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

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

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

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

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

The Final Fives: Talking Teleportation, Post-Its and the Sound of Music with Katlyn Morris

February 10, 2017

Katlyn Morris

Katlyn Morris

A new year brings new co-ops to the JRA team. This week, we ask five questions (plus a bonus!) of Katlyn Morris, Industrial Design student at the University of Cincinnati's School of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP).
If I had one extra hour in the day, I would … spend it with my family. Hours are always better spent with them!

I would advise anyone starting out in a creative career to … try everything and anything! Even though I’m just starting out, I’ve found the best part of creative careers is the endless opportunities.

I wish I had come up with … Post-its 

What are your favorite movies? My all time favorite: The Sound of Music

If you could have any super powers, what would they be? To teleport or to fly! It would be a much easier way to travel.

Dream experience design project: American Girl world park—I’ve always loved American Girl dolls, and it would be a childhood dream come true to bring that world to life!

Thank you, Katlyn! We hope you enjoy your time at JRA. 

Tags: JRA Team

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!

Emerging Trends in Immersive Design: A 2016 IAAPA Presentation

November 28, 2016

JRA VP Shawn McCoy presents

JRA VP Shawn McCoy presents "Emerging Trends in Immersive Design as part of Museum Day at the 2016 IAAPA Expo.

For the sixth year in a row, JRA Vice President, Shawn McCoy re-capped the blockbuster attractions of 2016 with Thinkwell Principal, Cynthia Sharpe as part of "Emerging Trends In Immersive Design" at the 2016 IAAPA Attractions Expo.

In their presentation, Shawn and Cynthia discovered that guests are craving community as much as personalization, quiet as much as noise, a step back to simplicity as much as modern technology. The result is an ecclectic mix of "Best of the Best" case studies, from London to Chicago, from a hilltop in Barcelona to the phone in your hand. While the techniques may differ, all of these projects aim to tell stories in unique and compelling ways. 

As usual, the session played to a capacity crowd, to the point where dozens of eager audience members were turned away at the door (fire codes - not our fault!). If you were one of them, or if you couldn't make it to Orlando, you're in luck! Shawn was kind enough to record his presentation over the slide deck, so click below and enjoy. 

If you are interested in a PDF version of the slide deck and script, please email Clara Rice at


Tags: JRA Journeys , JRA Team

Add comment


No comments yet. Be the first!