During months in quarantine, these four Dayton institutions found ways to keep their patrons entertained and involved
With people spending months inside due to COVID-19, certain organizations had to get creative to keep audiences engaged. For some, this meant creating and selling projects that could be used to keep stuck-at-home children occupied. For others, this meant producing unique videos for all ages. While the state is slowly reopening, arts and education attractions in particular are finding that they must continue to think of ways to keep their audiences engaged and coming back for more.
Boonshoft Museum of Discovery
The Boonshoft Museum of Discovery, who’s list of attractions includes a planetarium and a zoo, officially closed its doors March 15. Just a day after it closed, Boonshoft began releasing free videos that could be found on its website and Facebook. The program, called Boonshoft at Home, is still available on the site and features a wide variety of content. Participants are encouraged to do the DIY science activities at home, and the featured videos and activity guides can be found on topics ranging from animals to the solar system.
During quarantine, the Boonshoft also began providing its patrons with the opportunity to bring home Camp in a Box, a type of digital summer camp. There are seven different types of Camp in a Box packages to choose from, with two camps for 6- and 7-year-olds and five available for 8- to 12-year-olds. Families can choose a facilitated version that includes an interactive experience with Boonshoft educators through Zoom or an unfacilitated version that comes with activity guides and camp supplies.
On June 16, the Boonshoft reopened its doors, but with limited hours, closing its doors an hour early at 4 p.m. In addition, the museum is now closed on Sundays and Mondays to also allow for a deep cleaning of the museum.
The museum has reopened, but it is continuing to offer its popular Camp in a Box. And while it has slowed down its creation of online videos, the Boonshoft is still posting Behind the Scenes videos and hosting Facebook Live events for its online audience.
SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park
Located just 15 minutes from the Boonshoft Museum is SunWatch Indian Village and Archaeological Park. The reconstructed village was first excavated and reported on in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1971 that the Dayton Museum of Natural History (now the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery) began recovering items from the site. In 1988, the village was opened to the public as SunWatch. Today, guests can walk around the reconstructed village and visit the Interpretive Center, which features many artifacts found from the original site.
Although SunWatch did not specifically provide any programming to the public during the shutdown, some of the educational videos produced by the Boonshoft Museum focused on aspects of the site, such as its pottery.
SunWatch is open again to the public with its regular hours, but it is uncertain when the Interpretive Center will be open again.
“It depends on how the numbers go and how the state and the health department is saying that things can open,” says Tracey Tomme, president and CEO of the Dayton Society of Natural History. “But we want to make sure that we’re certainly doing everything that we can to keep employees, visitors and our community safe and healthy.”
When it comes to the future, Sunwatch is looking to make more improvements to the site, particularly to the Interpretive Center. But for now, SunWatch fans can visit the site or keep up with the park’s dog, Fiddler, as he explores the grounds on the site’s Facebook page.
Dayton History runs many historical sites within Dayton and the surrounding area, including Carillon Historical Park, which also serves as the organization’s main headquarters; Hawthorn Hill, Orville Wright’s mansion; and the Patterson Homestead, the home of John H. Patterson, the founder of the National Cash Register Company.
During the shutdown, Dayton History created a series of videos focusing on different aspects of Carillon Historical Park. Typically, the park is busy in April and May with school field trips. But, with quarantine and the shutdown of schools, many children missed out on their spring trips. Dayton History worked with teachers in order to produce content that could be used for online instruction. The videos ranged from demonstrations to mini tours of certain artifacts and areas in the park.
“It’s pretty eclectic [at the park], and so there’s 200 years of buildings and subjects and different topics that are here,” says Brady Kress, president and CEO of Dayton History.
Carillon Historical Park, the 65-acre open air museum, was the first property to reopen after the shutdown. The Mound Cold War Discovery Center, another Dayton History property, has opened back up to the public as well, but the rest of the properties are still in the process of welcoming visitors back. Reservations must be made in advance to visit most of Dayton History’s sites.
Dayton History has slowed down its production of online content and turned its attention to the future instead. Dayton History is currently working on its master plan, which includes the addition of the future mile-long Carillon Park Railway.
The Human Race Theatre Company
The Human Race Theatre Company, located at 126 N. Main St. in Dayton, kicked off its 33rd season in fall 2019. However, the theater was forced to cut its season short and put on its final performance of Gloria: A Life, a play about journalist and activist Gloria Steinem, on March 11, right before shutting down. However, that doesn’t mean the theater has stopped completely.
During a normal season, the theater has a Monday night play reading series, but due to the shutdown the reading could only be done virtually. The reading became a fundraiser for The Dayton Foodbank, which the theater has worked with for over 20 years. Usually, the Human Race Theatre hosts a canned food drive during its last rehearsal in which the price of entry is a cash donation or nonperishable food item. Throughout the years, the theater has collected 24 tons of food for the food bank.
The online version of the fundraiser was a cash-only event, but the theater was still able to help the foodbank.
“That went really well and we learned a lot about streaming performances,” says Kappy Kilburn, executive director of The Human Race Theatre Company.
In the meantime, while the theater remains closed, the theater is trying to find ways to continue its Stages and Stories program. The program focuses on what Kilburn calls “underheard populations”—such as homeless youth, the elderly and veterans groups—to give them opportunities to learn more about theater, both on the stage and behind the scenes.