20 years ago, Sioux Falls leaders decided to convert the old Washington High School building downtown into something completely new.
The Washington Pavilion now houses theatrical shows, musicians, artists and a science center.
For kids, the Washington Pavilion is an easy sell.
“All the toys,” said Hunter Cupurus, visiting Pavilion.
Sammi Bjelland: What’s your favorite toy here?
Hunter: All of them.
For parents, it’s more than fun.
“The kids don’t realize they’re learning while they’re playing. So it’s kind of an interesting aspect of learning all the different things while they’re playing. Then they’re asking all these questions. Why do the gears turn like this? Why isn’t this gear moving?” Marissa Swanz, visiting Pavilion said.
These two visit the Pavilion almost weekly.
While it’s not easy to narrow down the best part…
“That’s pretty tricky. I don’t know,” said Hunter.
It’s not hard to see what they take home.
“It works with their fine motor development and their creativity skills. It gets them thinking outside of the box. Where as if you go inside a different environment they might have to follow a certain set of structure and routine. Where here they still have that, but it’s more creative thinking,” Swanz said.
Even though the Pavilion is filling up new exhibits with dinosaurs and astronauts, it hasn’t always had this sort of stability.
President and CEO, Darrin Smith, believes a significant change in approach to the facility is why it’s growing today.
“You have to run the organization like a business. That’s when we really started having success. By combining mission with money, and money with mission. That’s so critical,” Smith said.
One way they’re doing that is through more active fundraising efforts.
Not only are they trying to raise money to keep operations going today, they’re planning ahead to the future.
“People are willing to step up in a big way. We launched Legacy Giving program with a goal of raising $5 million in the first three years. We raised more than $17 million in commitments within the first 12 months. That tells you that people really like what you’re doing and more than anything they’re confident in the future of the organization, the staff, the leadership. That’s a tremendous compliment,” Smith said.
“The unique thing, or the reason why I think it’s important to create legacy programs, is that you can also acknowledge and thank and recognize those individuals today. Because so often those gifts are left and the organization finds out about them and they’re so excited but they never really had that opportunity to understand why they’re leaving that gift. Where they want that money to go and how it can really leave an impact,” Washington Pavilion Chief Development Officer Kerri DeGraff said.
Chief Development Officer, Kerri DeGraff, says there’s not one singular reason people are so generous toward the Pavilion.
Between art, science and theatre there are a variety of passions being served under one roof.
“Really it’s been amazing to see the different reasons why people do want to ensure that this facility stays long term. I do know that all of the individuals feel that having the Washington Pavilion is important to the Sioux Falls community,” DeGraff said.
While these generous gifts are reassuring for the future of the Pavilion, the staff says they still need to stay active and creative with curriculum and cash moving forward.
“What we’re finding in this Science Center in particular is that you can have all this expensive, technology driven stuff. And at the end of the day the kids want to put their hands on building blocks and tinker toys and cardboard boxes. And things that they can still play with and create things with. And that’s pretty neat to see,” Smith said.
“So our hope is that kids are able to enjoy and experience amazing things within this facility so they see the benefit of it. When they’re older they bring their kids here. And then they bring their grandkids here. Then, of course hopefully, they can do the same and leave those long term legacy gifts,” DeGraff said.
Smith says they plan on breaking the all-time attendance record of 100,000 guests in the Science Center this year.