Long-time design partner JRA and Chicago Scenic teamed up recently to create the Corvette Museum’s new McMichael Family Education Gallery. The primary challenge: a small space, a lot of content.
The Museum Gallery, located at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY was envisioned by museum planners to be family-friendly and primarily serve student groups—elementary through high school—through an environment large enough to accommodate a teacher leading a student group through the exhibit and exploring its multiple interactive elements.
The Chicago Scenic team, led by Jason Ohlsen, vice president of operations (Florida) and project manager Sam Efman, first sat down with JRA designers and the Corvette Museum team in November 2022 to review the team’s vision and JRA’s early design renderings, and to build a budget that could accommodate them both.
The result is a 2500 sq. ft. environment that uses all available space—from walls to ceiling—while creating this imaginative walkable experience.
The story begins as visitors to the Gallery are met with a large, 8-ft. by 16-ft. photo mural of the original Corvette tech center in Detroit. “The Museum team originally had a different vision for the entry area that included recreating the iconic teacup desk found in the Tech Center,” Ohlsen said, “but fabricating that piece would have taken a huge chunk out of our budget. We spent many hours discussing ideas and alternatives and we eventually ended up with this mural; we all agree, it really works.”
One of the first interactives visitors meet is the big tactile wall that features a wide array of materials used to make a Corvette, including raw car parts, carbon fiber elements, seat belts, upholstery and dashboard leather strips, airbags, carpet swatches, even Corvette logos and taillights from 1980s models to current day.
“The Museum staff was hands-on with us the whole way—supplying artifacts, even full car consoles that we peeled leather from to include on this tactile wall,” Ohlsen added.
At the sketch table interactive, visitors use a pre-set tutorial to design their own Corvette. As designs are created, they can be projected onto a streetscape on the wall.
Visitors also find a refurbished rotating engine from a C8, and a display wall filled with Corvette gears. “There’s a whole wall of inspiration, full of the natural forms that together create the Corvette,” according to Sam Efman.
Ever mindful of the Gallery’s size constraints, the Museum and design team wanted to find a creative way to illustrate significant inspirations Detroit designers used to create their early Corvette models but not overwhelm the space. A few of those inspirations—a shark, stingray, and manta ray—are now suspended overhead; the forms inform visitors about a significant part of Corvette’s design history while maximizing available space.
This new Gallery space became available as a result of the Museum’s reconstruction following the February 12, 2014 when a sinkhole opened on the property and caused eight Corvettes to fall more than 30-feet into the resulting hole. All eight cars were recovered, restored, and the sinkhole was filled. (Visit the free 360-degree tour to learn more about the sinkhole event and subsequent building repair at www.corvettemuseum.com).
Following the Museum’s reconstruction, the Gallery sat empty temporarily. In November 2022, once the Museum team, JRA and Chicago Scenic began meeting to discuss the new Gallery project, however, things moved swiftly and the Gallery opened its doors to visitors in spring 2023.
Other key partners involved in the Gallery development include graphics firm Moss, and interactive firm Cortina who JRA enlisted to develop the sketch table interactive. Chicago Scenic’s Juan Arriaga was the shop lead and oversaw the 3-week installation; IATSE local laborers from Nashville comprised the onsite crew.
Team members agree that one of the project’s primary challenges—fitting a lot into a small space—was successfully solved through team collaboration and creative strategy. Since that process also produced additional interactive exhibit concepts that the team liked, a second phase to the Gallery development may be explored in the future, Jason added.