Sioux Falls cultural center launches new programs, exhibits
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Change is on the horizon for the Washington Pavilion.
The Sioux Falls cultural center is rolling out a series of new programs and exhibits in 2018 aimed at breathing new life into the institution.
“A lot of the focus group feedback was that our exhibits were really never changing,” said Darrin Smith, Pavilion president and CEO.
“Oftentimes they were getting beat up, or they had an ‘out of order’ sign on them,” continued Smith. “That was happening too much, and so it was time to reinvest.”
The changes will primarily take place in the Kirby Science Discovery Center and the Visual Arts Center.
As the new year began, the nonprofit wasted no time implementing measures to enhance visitors’ experiences, starting with a new patron engagement model.
“One of the things we recognized that other very successful science centers, children’s museums and art museums do is they have daily schedules,” said Smith.
“They engage directly with their patrons on a regular basis.”
The Pavilion already hosts popular monthly events, such as Free First Friday and Super Second Saturday, but guests were craving more. Members especially were requesting more value for their money, the Argus Leader reported .
Pavilion member Amity Neff, 39, is pleased with the recent changes.
“Right now I think they are doing such an amazing job with their new programming and how they’re matching the science with the visual arts,” said Neff, who is a stay-at-home mom of four. “Honestly, that’s the one thing I thought they could improve on, and they’re doing it.”
Smith hopes the facility’s new direction will help with membership retention, which he said is currently far below industry standard.
Each week, the scheduled programs will have a different theme geared toward children, such as outer space or monsters, and will be included with daily admission.
“Something is new every week,” said Neff. “That’s really great for people who have younger children or have an alternate education program like homeschooling.”
The new activities will encourage families to explore all areas of the facility. From story time to science experiments, a whole day of programming will be available for those who wish to participate.
“We want to connect more of the physical elements in the Pavilion that historically have really operated separately, and even in silos at times, and view the Pavilion as one facility,” said Smith, who joined the nonprofit staff in 2016.
The Kirby Science Discovery Center is one of the most popular attractions at the Pavilion, but parts of it have grown stale in recent years.
To captivate a new generation of children, two of the three floors in the science center will be completely redone in 2018.
The third floor, sponsored by Avera, will have a South Dakota theme and is set to reopen by Christmas break. The exhibits will highlight all things native to South Dakota, from wildlife habitats and genetics research to geology and weather.
The fourth floor will have a health and wellness theme, sponsored by Sanford Health. The Pavilion hopes to reopen the floor by the end of April, just in time for school to get out.
“One of the things I really want to do is get our sponsors more involved,” said Smith. “Their financial support obviously is very important, but the other layer we want is to have their staff more involved. They have all kinds of expertise that we don’t.”
Smith envisions cardiovascular physicians or neurosurgeons making guest appearances at the Pavilion on the weekends to educate and engage the public.
Other new sponsors include Scheels, which has taken over the rock climbing wall, and South Dakota State University, which is currently renovating the gift shop.
A year and a half ago, the Pavilion made a significant investment in the science center’s space-themed floor. This year, Smith wants to go back and add more interactive elements, as well as visually pleasing exhibits.
“We placed some great exhibits there and didn’t do much with environment, and we should have,” Smith said. “On the two new floors this year, we are going make sure we put new exhibits and a really cool environment to match it, and programming with staff.”
The Pavilion is also looking at rejuvenating parts of the Visual Arts Center, although not as dramatically as the science area.
“We want to implement a concept where we get more kids and families into the Visual Arts Center,” said Smith, who hopes to boost attendance numbers by 25 percent in 2018.
“I think historically it’s been more of an adult-oriented area,” continued Smith. “Certainly much of it will continue to be focused on high quality art that adults are interested in, but we really need to get more young people interested in visual art and coming so they become lifelong patrons.”
Staff members are working on building a new exhibit for the Raven Children’s Studio, located outside of the center’s seven art galleries.
One concept includes a crayon coloring station with the ability to project children’s artwork onto a monitor. Kids will be able to do hands-on activities like drawing, with more sophisticated programming coordinated for older children.
In addition to an enhanced focus on children, the Visual Arts Center will give one of its galleries a local and regional focus.
“I personally think that’s something we’ve been missing for a long time,” said Smith. “I’ve studied other art museums and found that quite a few of them don’t run from where they are, what they are and who they are. They embrace it. That’s what we need to do, something that reflects South Dakota.”
The Visual Arts Center already has a gallery dedicated to Native American art, but the Pavilion wants to expand its showcasing of local artists in all themes and mediums.
“It’s not throwing the baby out with the bath water. It’s just introducing change, really in a minimal way, but I think it’ll make a big difference,” said Smith.
Although the fine arts and science centers could use some work, the performing arts programs at the Pavilion are thriving.
In 2017, the nonprofit broke all of its performance records including number of season subscribers, which has tripled since 2009. Over 112,000 tickets were sold to performance events at the Pavilion last year.
“The Book of Mormon,” part of the 2016-2017 performance series, now holds the record for most single tickets sold. It is the all-time No. 1 show in Pavilion history.
This year, the Pavilion’s performance series expanded to a three-show night minimum, a result of successful ticket sales.
“We are always striving to get the best quality shows we can, and the great news is this market has really demonstrated demand,” said Smith.
With its 20th anniversary approaching on June 1, 2019, the Washington Pavilion is running full speed ahead with better ways to fulfill its mission.
Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com