Pavilion at 20: Investments pay off as corporate support builds

May 30, 2019

It’s a milestone fit for an anniversary year: If current trends hold, the Washington Pavilion’s Kirby Science Discovery Center will reach 100,000 visitors for the first time in its history sometime this year.

“The good news is when you make a considerable investment, you need to see attendance and numbers go up, and you certainly hope that happens. And it has been happening each of the last three years,” said Darrin Smith, the Pavilion’s president and CEO.

“And this year will be the biggest by far. So that’s nice to see, and I think it’s working.”

As the Pavilion marks its 20th anniversary Saturday, it’s an organization that seems to have found its stride. Visitor numbers are up, corporate sponsorship is robust, and there are plans to grow the organization’s management services beyond the historic former high school.

The approach the Pavilion has taken to business development in recent years is most easily seen in the science center. By this time next year, “all three floors will have been completely made over in the past three years to four years, which was sorely needed,” Smith said.

“It was time to come back and make this reinvestment.”

It started with the Health Quest by Sanford exhibit, which opened last year on the fourth floor with hands-on exhibits around health and wellness, including a life-sized ambulance and 21-foot model of the human body.

One year later, the Pavilion cut the ribbon for phase one of the redesigned third floor of the science center, sponsored by Avera, that focuses on exhibits that tie back to South Dakota.

“It’s been a huge hit so far,” Smith said.

The Dinosaur Discovery exhibit brings visitors face-to-face with a life-sized Tyrannosaurus rex and invites them to dig for bones as they learn about the tools used to unearth fossils.

A ride in the Jurassic Jeep connects them with “dino experts,” and interactive screens invite them to color or watch educational cartoons.

There’s also a miniature rock quarry, sponsored by L.G. Everist, featuring a countdown to a quarry blast, a replica mine tunnel and an interactive exhibit for loading and lifting rocks and stones like the ones used to build the Pavilion more than a century ago.

Other features include an interactive South Dakota quiz game, a scavenger hunt and a corridor featuring the photography of Paul Schiller.

Avera Stage Science, which was updated last year, offers live looks at science experiments and research.

“Our clinical teams understand that play is an important component of childhood development, so we are proud to partner with the Washington Pavilion,” said Dave Flicek, president and CEO of Avera McKennan. “At the Avera stage, children are exposed to science in a way that’s fun, interactive, and we hope they’ll want to learn more.”

That sort of corporate commitment is a big part of what’s allowing the Pavilion to evolve its offerings, Smith said.

“It’s the sponsorships that really help,” he said. “They (the sponsors) are having parties here, they bring their employees and their kids and grandkids. And the other common thread is that sponsors want us in each exhibit to somehow tie in workforce development. They want us to talk about careers in their field and maybe feature staff talking to kids.”

Next year will bring phase two improvements to the science center’s South Dakota floor, which will focus on agriculture. The South Dakota Corn Growers Association has signed on as a sponsor, and Smith expects additional corporate interest.

“It will all tie back to ag, and it could be basic things like a barn and play animals to the future of ag,” Smith said. “Everything we’re doing in the science center really has to be with local businesses.”

The Visual Arts Center also has drawn interest from sponsors and donors. The Raven Children’s Studio is sponsored by Raven Industries, and “it’s much more interactive and hands-on,” Smith said.

A new South Dakota gallery also has been well-received and prompted enough donor interest that it might be expanded, he said.

“And that’s the thing you hope for,” he said. “You hope maybe donors and sponsors feel strongly enough that they want to support it. It certainly allows us to do more with that robust sponsorship, higher quality and more frequently.”

The performing arts aspect of the Pavilion continues to drive visitor business, Smith added.

In 2010, there were fewer than 1,000 subscribers. That has grown to more than 3,000 and keeps growing between 10 percent to 20 percent annually, he said.

“That’s significant and allows us each year to attract a little bigger and better shows. And, of course, the market responds to that, and it just kind of snowballs in a good way.”

What’s next

There aren’t any major projects on the horizon for the Pavilion in the next few years, largely because so much has been done, Smith said.

“The city has made significant capital investment in the building in a number of ways — and ways the public wouldn’t immediately notice but should,” he said. “Things like the audio and video capabilities inside the building, the technology, the science center where the city was a significant investor along with private companies, so there’s nothing significant coming up that still needs to be done.”

He also has determined the Pavilion will not need to install escalators, a project that had been discussed for years, so that will free up space for events on the second floor.

Leonardo’s Cafe also is scheduled for what Smith called “a bit of a face-lift” next year that will involve cosmetic improvements.

“You’ll definitely notice it when you come in,” he said.

The bigger change for the Pavilion, though, could be its expanding vision for its management services.

It will take over management of the Orpheum Theater Center for the city of Sioux Falls on July 1, bringing a 700-seat venue to complement the two theaters in the Pavilion, which seat about 300 and 2,000 respectively.

“It’s really exciting to see us after 20 years finally taking a step outside the building and expanding our reach and our impact on the community and region,” Smith said. “The Orpheum is a perfect fit. We’re already finding lots and lots of shows for next year to put until contract at the Orpheum.”

He sees it as the first piece of a larger approach to management the Pavilion can offer.

“To me, the Orpheum is really just the beginning of what I see as an expansion of Washington Pavilion Management Inc.,” Smith said.

“I feel like I have my arms around exactly what it is we’re doing and how we fit in the community in ways I didn’t fully understand before, and I really think there are lots of possibilities going forward where we can and should be the epicenter for the arts in Sioux Falls region.”

The Pavilion will hold a daylong celebration Saturday, which marks the 20th anniversary of the day the doors opened, followed by special events throughout the month.

Here’s what’s happening Saturday

  • Museums open free of charge, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Free activities and programming for youth and families throughout the day:
    • Children’s activities, arts and crafts, games, inflatables, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
    • Face-painting: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Free movies in the Wells Fargo CineDome
  • Food trucks and concessions throughout the day
  • Birthday cupcake giveaway
  • Radley Rex mascot appearances
  • Live entertainment throughout the day and evening street dance:
    • On stage from 1 to 5 p.m.
      • Youth theater productions
      • “Danger Committee” entertainment – knife throwing and juggling act from “America’s Got Talent”
      • DJ Jer
    • On stage after 5 p.m.
      • Goodroad
      • OK, Parade
      • Spooncat

Other events this month

  • Free First Friday – June 7
    • Free admission to the Kirby Science Discovery Center and Visual Arts Center, 5 to 8 p.m.
      • Hands-on art projects, scavenger hunts and prizes available for families. 
  • Steve Martin & Martin Short – June 8, 7:30 p.m.
    • Ticketed event, one performance.
  • “Les Miserables” – June 12-16
    • Ticketed events, seven performances – evening and afternoon matinee options.
  • Retro Day – June 22
    • The Washington Pavilion will have a “throwback” to June 1, 1999, with 1999 pricing all day.

For information, visit the Washington Pavilion box office at 301 S. Main Ave., call  605 367-6000 or go online at

25 years after vote, Pavilion looks back and ahead

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Pavilion at 20: Investments pay off as corporate support builds

“This year will be the biggest by far.” This week marks 20 years since the Washington Pavilion welcomed its first visitor. Stop in today and you’ll find a lot is changing.

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