Cultural leaders open to each others members in May

May is time to get your culture on in Southwest Michigan.

The Air Zoo, Binder Park Zoo, Gilmore Car Museum, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, and Kalamazoo Nature Center are cooperating throughout the month of May to the benefit of their members.

The five local organizations that have been bringing cultural events to the community for many years are working together during the month to encourage their members to try out what's going on at other institutions.

The collaboration, being tried for the first time in this area, is called the Southwest Michigan Cultural Exchange and through it members of any of the five participating organizations can use their membership for free admission at the other organizations. There may be additional costs to experience activities or programs.

The cooperative effort was announced at a recent press conference in which the heads of each of the five organizations described how they would work together and what prompted the move.

"The first time I came to Kalamazoo -- a have four young kids from age 5 to 12 -- and I looked around to see what kind of arts and culture would be available for my family. I saw the Civic and the KIA and quickly learned there was so much amazing arts and culture here. For a community this size, I have never seen anything like it," says Troy Thrash, who moved to the community in 2013 to lead the Air Zoo.

Thrash went on to perform a science experiment that demonstrated the power of different chemicals working together to create something that was greater than the sum of the parts. "It's a win, win, win, win, win proposition," Thrash says.

Jay Follis, marketing director of the Gilmore Car Museum, encourages people to visit the museum that features 300 vehicles on a 90 acre site. Hands-on activities, like Model T driving classes (it's not as easy as it looks, Follis says), 18 large shows, automobiles with international backgrounds, historic buildings, and programs with educational aspects all are part of the experience in Hickory Corners.

Diane Thompson, CEO of Binder Park Zoo, urges people to visit the new bear exhibit where the adolescent bears featuring two brothers and a sister, is one of the new features drawing people to the zoo this spring. (Thompson held a tortoise throughout the press conference.)

From the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Bill Rose says that as one of the earliest, largest and acknowledged as one of the most successful nature centers, what it has to offer brings in parents, toddlers, school age children and senior citizens. Whether it's a visit to see the indoor exhibits or to travel the 14 miles of trail, visitors will find as spring unfolds a focus on birds and blossoms. It's also time for summer camp sign up.

James Bridenstein, executive director of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, says May 17 will be the West Michigan Area show and it has grown from the original nine counties to now include artists from 14 counties. From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on May 16 this year, the show will feature 97 artists. At the end of May, the KIA will be exhibiting the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany in three exhibitions that show off his jewelry, leaded-glass lamps and windows, and his work in blown glass and mosaics, including 27 lamps and five window.

"Some of this work has never been exhibited before," Bridenstein says.

The leaders of the five organizations said if the month is successful in cross pollinating the memberships they could try such a collaboration again in the future. Indicators such as whether more people than usual from Battle Creek visit will be tracked to evaluate the program. Between the five organizations there are now 20,000 members and the individual organizations are hoping to see their numbers rise.

And yet there is another measure of success. As Thrash put it: "If we find one kid who falls in love with science through airplanes, that is pretty darn successful."

May activities at the participating organizations include:

The Air Zoo
Enjoy a 3D Space Shuttle Ride, the Century of Flight Ferris Wheel, a Corsair Challenge/Mission to Mars, Flight Simulators, the Montgolfier Balloon Race, a Paratrooper Jump and a Disc Golf Course.

Binder Park Zoo
View dozens of animal species, Feed the Giraffes, ride a Tram to Wild Africa or the Binda Conservation Carousel, shop in the Safari Gift Shop and enjoy wonderful food in Beulah's restaurant.

Gilmore Car Museum
View more than 300 extraordinary cars and motorcycles from all eras, a 1930s Service Station, historic barns, a functioning 1941 Diner and car dealerships from a bygone era.

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts
View artwork from four exhibitions: the High School Area Show, the West Michigan Area Show, Cultural Encounters: India, Burma and Tibet and Inside Steinway: Photographs by Christopher Payne.

Kalamazoo Nature Center
View over 1,100 acres of wooded and rolling countryside, and participate in activities such as Birding with the Stars, Yoga in the Glen Vista, Wildflowers after Work and Hands-on Gardening.

Source: Participating organizations and press conference at the Air Zoo

Photos: Kathy Jennings
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