Corrine and I walk from the Bedré Cafe to the Chickasaw Visitor Center. We talk about how the intersection could be textured with pavers to create an awareness for vehicular traffic of the pedestrian traffic and that this is a special zone of circulation. We talk about the old church up the street and how it could become a community playhouse or an ole opry mini-Branson venue.
As we approach the north entrance of the Chickasaw Visitor Center, we meet up with Cynthia Hines, the Supervisor of the Visitor Center on the sidewalk. Corrine once again introduces me as the architect for your building and Cynthia replies “We really like you. We really love our building. And it’s beautiful. We continually have people ask “who is the architect?” so we know to tell them Frankfurt Short and Bruza. I have found your Blog and I enjoy the Blog. And I tell people about that.” Corrine says, “And that’s why he’s here. He’s dong some more work for the blog.” I tell her that this story is about ended. It’s all over as far as the design and construction and now it’s about it serving its purpose.
I ask, “So how has it been with the visitors? Are the visitors asking about the architecture? Cynthia replies, “Yes. People who come in here are in total wonderment about the space. Loving the materials, loving the design. And people from the area know what was here before looked like.”
Cynthia, “Uh huh. And that you used the shape of the site, the space and the levels. People notice.”
Well you now the whole story that we told on the Blog of how we dealt with the site. Because of how it really drops and the way we would we dealt with that.
Cynthia, “Yeah. Spectacular.”
So you have people coming in and using the kiosks and planning their visits?
Cynthia, “Lots of people coming in and being excited about what’s happening on the whole corner. Planning the future.”
The battery goes dead in my camera and I reach to replace it with a freshly charged one. Corrine obliges by taking a photo of me and Cynthia. We mingle among the visitors in the center as we walk through the high bay Gallery Space.
Cynthia tells me that she needs to introduce me to the staff because they are the ones that get the questions about the architect. Corrine excuses herself as she has a meeting to get to. I tell her to say hello to Lona Barrick/Director of Chickasaw Arts and Humanity whom I have had the pleasure of working with.
Corrine says that she is really excited about what all is going on in the area and that they feel really blessed to have the wonderful space that is in the Visitor Center. “Every day we are so thankful that we have the greatest spot in the entire state. And a national park in our back yard. And at sunset there couldn’t be a better spot surrounded on all sides by views. I love it.”
We bid Corrine farewell.
Cynthia takes me over and introduces me to the staff of the Visitor Center. “Eric we have so many people asking who the architect is. This is the architect. I want you to meet Fred Schmidt. This is Eric Gibson. Eric has a bachelor degree in Native American studies. He speaks Chickasaw and Choctaw.”
Wow. My goodness.
Cynthia, “He is Choctaw.
I tell Eric that we are working with the Choctaw Nation on a special project.
Cynthia, “This is Misty Robinson and Sunni Sutor. This is our architect.”
Misty says “we talk about you all the time. We have been on-line and read the Blog.”
Cynthia has an English background and I tell her that I hope the Blog passes her scrutiny.
She is kind and says that she reads it but does not check it for grammar. She likes the very personal approach of the blog and that it speaks to the readers in terms they can understand.”
I ask Misty “So tell me about the visitors who come to the center.”
Misty says “well you know every single person that comes does comment on the architecture and the loves the materials. But basically what we are doing is just giving information about the area. Most of the time when they stop in they are looking for a specific thing to do; like visit the cultural center and we give them directions and information, or they want to know about the history of the Artesian Hotel or about the national park land. We are trying to inform ourselves as much as possible so that we can answer all the questions. And just get to know the area itself. People come in and say “I was here 30 years ago and I can’t find this or that.”
Cynthia brings over Craig Edmondson/Manager of the Visitor Center and introduces us. I tell Craig that this is really one of my first visits back since the facility has really been up and running. “So we were talking about how the Visitor Center is working and about people coming in and asking about the surrounding attractions and stuff; getting directions and having the opportunity to look around the space and see the artwork displayed over there.”
Craig, “They get a history and culture lesson while they are here.”
I ask about how the kiosks are working; are people engaging in looking up information. Is it a younger generation thing?
Cynthia, “We are getting quite a few and I can see how when it gets busier it will pick up. And once we tell people that they can plan a weekend or a day trip or whatever and they can print the whole thing out they really like that. And I tell them it’s like playing with an iPhone and they really like that. Kids go straight to it.”
Craig, “A lot of times they really don’t know what it is and we have to say we do have a kiosk over here that will allow you to go and find out things. The 30 and 40 years olds will go “oh” and take right to it. The older people my age are still paper people. And the kids like to play with it.”
Craig, “The only thing I can say about the building is that I really like it. And the people talk about just the transformation of this corner. They have been here a while and knew what was here and now see what is here today.”
Cynthia, “And if you go to google earth you can still see the old ugly corner. But it’s really cool because you can compare what it was then and what it is now.”
I have run into locals at the donut shop and they remember when the car dealership was here. One gentleman remembers working at the dealership when there was a propane leak and everyone ran out of the building just before the explosion. And another couple remembers a night in the 60’s when they watched the old Artesian burn to the ground. Interesting stories and history.
Cynthia, “Craig came from the Army Corps of Engineers, so he is going to be helping with the park in a huge way and with his background in government he can bridge the gap in having dialog with the park officials.”
Craig, “And convincing them that this is a good place for interpretative programs about the park.”
It’s about sharing the information. Do it wherever you can. We talk about how beautiful the park is with all the walking and hiking trails.
Cynthia “And we do get people in here for that too. Wanting to get trail maps.”
I see that you now have the bike share racks in place. Tell me about that.
Cynthia, “It has been up for about 6 weeks. There are a few bugs to work out. It’s a great component to have here.”
I tell them that we’re looking to have another bike share rack on the back side of the Cultural Center to make even another connection with downtown.
I let Cynthia and Craig know that I appreciate being able to visit and chat about the visitors and how the center is working. It excites me to hear about how people are liking the space. The whole idea about the Blog was to share the story of the Visitor Center from beginning to opening. And this is the proof of how you get from a vision to a finished facility where you can walk around. The Blog shared the story.
I tell them that it is very rewarding to hear all the wonderful things that visitors have to say about the facility.
Cynthia, “It’s true. Everyone comments on the beauty.”
As I leave and head to my car I feel honored to be introduced as their architect, but it’s only figuratively. While I was the Principal on the project and I feel I had a hand in the design, I was only one of many design professionals at FSB that played a part in the project. The lead designer was George Dunlop and the lead architect was Lowe Runkle; the interior designer was Sharon Richardson. And there is the whole cast of project manager, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, structural engineers, civil engineers and landscape architect. And let’s not forget another key team member, the Client.
Getting this kind of positive feedback from the staff and the people using the facility is the rewarding part of what we do as designers. It’s a long road from visioning, design, watching the project come out of the ground and now seeing people enjoy what we have created. It makes it all worthwhile. I believe that I can speak for the Visitor Center Team and all of us here at FSB in saying “we love what we do.”