Conner Prairie has announced that it will build three new projects within the next few years. The new $24 million projects include an Enhanced Museum Experience Center, Outdoor Nature Experience and a new exhibit called “Promised Land and Proving Ground.”
Construction is expected to begin in 2023 or 2024. Conner Prairie will also renovate its theater and create more space for its historic artifacts from its own collection or traveling exhibits. It is also working to make easier access to the exhibit entrances for people with disabilities.
The Enhanced Museum Experience Center will house new exhibits and speakers in a new partnership with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The partnership allows Conner Prairie to display artifacts and touring exhibits from the Smithsonian and 200 other affiliated museums across the U.S. The new museum will also feature diversified collections, a youth leadership institute space and feature local and global artists.
“This project is about bringing access to Central Indiana,” said Andrew Bradford, Conner Prairie’s vice president and chief advancement officer. “So, for us, it’s all about the opportunity for people to learn from a deeper perspective and not have to be burdened by the travel barriers they might face, preventing them from understanding what the Smithsonian currently has to offer.”
The Outdoor Nature Experience will utilize the 3.3 miles of the White River that runs through the property as well as the 260 acres of prairie and woodland. There will be two new trails, one of which will be fully accessible for all visitors. Along the trails will be four educational hubs with content that will feature the past, present and future role of the river. There will also be environmental science education opportunities and visual art displays.
The new permanent exhibit, “Promised Land as Proving Ground,” will open in the summer of 2023 and tell a more inclusive story of Indiana’s history with a focus on the African diaspora and African American culture and traditions from precolonial history to present day.
“We’re excited about the fact that this project is going to allow for a more diverse storytelling and for us to think about inclusive history as representative of all Hoosiers,” Bradford said. “And play will be at the center of this. We know that’s how kids learn best, and so we’re excited about that opportunity to get them thinking about history through play, to inspire that curiosity.”
Part of the project is being funded by the private philanthropic donations to the Prairie Pathways Campaign, which is funding the new projects. The donations total $15 million will support the new projects. The lead donors, Jay and Nancy Ricker, will have $3.5 million of their $5 million donation go toward the Prairie Pathways Campaign. Conner Prairie anticipates the remaining funds will be provided by partnerships currently in development.