Maybe you’ve driven by the beautiful building near 135th Street and Nall and were drawn in by the glowing golden and purple stained glass windows. If you’ve seen it lit up at night, you may have noticed how the remarkable design sparkles against a dark sky. Visitors can watch how the glass changes colors at different times of day. The fiery reds, purples and oranges in the daytime and the sea of blue hues at nighttime reflect the imagery of the prairie grasses on fire.
If you do not know what this building is, you may not know about Johnson County’s newest hidden gem — the Museum at Prairiefire. As the only building in the United States to feature Dichroic Glass, developed by NASA, the Museum’s exterior is as unique as what it holds inside. The architectural design by Jonathan Kharfen of Verner Johnson created a one-of-a-kind structure that is fully representative of the Museum’s purpose: a place that provides access for all to understand and celebrate natural history and science in our region and around the world. The Museum at Prairiefire was built through a unique collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and with the support of the Merrill Companies and several other funders from the region.
When it opened in May 2014, the Museum at Prairiefire created a rich, new educational and cultural experience for the greater Kansas City region. The Museum engages visitors and students with a variety of world-class exhibitions from the AMNH, important programming for school groups and the community, and significant educational and STEM opportunities. In addition to the educational offerings inside the building, visitors are encouraged to walk around the building and study the limestone, mostly quarried from Kansas, and see what fossil stories they can find. Trails through native prairie grasses that grow next to the building offer one other way to experience the natural habitat and beauty of Kansas.
“We’re like Johnson County’s best-kept secret,” said Laura Harsch, the Museum’s Vice President for Guest Experience. “The Museum features a variety of programs, events and learning opportunities for all ages and also offers a beautiful venue to host special events.”
Two or three world-class exhibits from the American Museum of Nature History are featured each year. The current exhibit, Amazing Species: Life at the Limits, tells the story of the creatures that have adapted to survive in the harshest environments in the world. Over billions of years, living things have evolved from simple cells into awe-inspiring array of life forms – a spectacle of behaviors, specialized parts, and exacting skills. Some species are familiar. But other species are so amazing that they test the limits of our imagination. Educator guides that support state science standards are available for teachers to use when bringing school groups to see the exhibits.
Families and individuals are getting involved in a variety of science and discovery programs at the Museum. The Little Explorers Club programs guide pre-school-aged children through a science topic. Jam Sessions offer inquiry-based, hands-on learning opportunities for 1st through 5th graders. Summer camp programs engage middle school students in learning about paleontology and geology over a 4-day session. On two Fridays each month, curious adults with an interest in science can enjoy the Museum’s Science Happy Hour programs. Each program features a different expert making an informal presentation on a science topic.
With the Museum of Prairiefire located in Johnson County, our community has another powerful cultural and educational institution that brings new exhibits and diverse learning opportunities to students and adults across our region. Many of the students with artistic talents that are nominated for the Arts Council’s Shooting Stars scholarship awards often pursue higher education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). This Museum offers students a fascinating new venue to study areas of natural history and science topics focused on the Kansas/Missouri region.
The Museum has attracted more than 400,000 visitors and school groups from 40+ school districts since it opened in 2014. While it is located in Johnson County, the Museum offers a unique natural history learning experience for residents and visitors to the Kansas City region. Open 7 days a week and surrounded by restaurants and other entertainment venues, visitors to the Museum can make a full day of activities in the Prairiefire development. A variety of memberships offer benefits and reduced ticket prices for families, educators and corporations to enjoy the Museum’s amenities and offerings year-round.
To learn more about the Museum at Prairiefire, click here.