Not since it opened has Exploration Place spruced up and reached out like it’s doing for the landing in May of “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination” — the largest traveling exhibit it has hosted.
“It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” marketing director Christina Bluml said. The exhibit will be advertised in Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
But “Star Wars” is only one force moving through the area’s cultural and entertainment galaxy this year.
The Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson is celebrating its 50th anniversary (astronaut visits!), Botanica its 25th, and the Tallgrass Film Festival its 10th. The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum will mark the 80th anniversary of the electric guitar (which it’s spent 20 years confirming was first played in Wichita) with a display of celebrity guitars, and the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University will honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gordon Parks.
And the stars of Broadway will shine at Century II in September in the form of “The Lion King,” staged by the Theater League of Wichita.
Here are some of the new events of the year:
• Exploration Place: “Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination,” May 26 to Sept. 3. Tickets $19.50 for adults (ages 12 to 64), $16.50 for seniors (ages 65 and older), $13 for youths (ages 3 to 11), and free for children 2 and under. Discounts for members. Tickets include a planetarium show, mini golf and a live science show. With exhibit or general admission, visitors can also step inside a Millennium Falcon replica and have the sensation of flying for $3. Information: www.exploration.org, 316-660-0600, 300 N. McLean.
• Wichita Art Museum: All of the museum is now open after the completion of roof repairs, and a free Cinco de Mayo party from 5 to 8 p.m. May 5 will usher in the opening of a Visions of Mexican Art exhibit of 55 works by mid-20th-century-to-beginning of 21st-century artists from Mexico.
• Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University: The galleries are closed until fall for upgrades to the climate controls and some cosmetic improvements. They will reopen, on a date to be announced, to an exhibit in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gordon Parks. The exhibit will focus on Parks’ social consciousness and civil rights, drawing from the Ulrich’s collection of Parks’ works and joining them to works from the Menil Collection from Houston. Parks’ birthday was Nov. 30, and a string of programs in honor of him will be held on the Thursday evenings of November.
• Wichita Symphony: Symphony al Fresco will bring music lovers to Fulton Valley Farms near Augusta to hear music and raise money for the symphony’s education program on May 19. For $100, people will be able to visit five areas around the farm each featuring a different type of music and food, including a slab for dancing in the jazz area. Afterward, everyone will come together in the barn for dessert, a live auction and a final program by all of the musicians.
• Music Theatre of Wichita: The summer season will feature two shows making their first appearances here: “9 to 5” (June 27 to July 1) and “Legally Blonde” (Aug. 8 to 12), while its two biggest productions will be “Fiddler on the Roof” (June 13 to 17) and “Singin’ in the Rain,” during which it will rain on stage (July 25 to 29).
• Theater League of Wichita: The season that starts this fall will be what league president Mark Edelman has called “the most historical theater series in my career of 35 years.” It will bring the Broadway show “Lion King” to Century II for an extended run from Sept. 4 to 30. Other shows: “Rock of Ages,” Nov. 27 to 29, and, in 2013, “Jersey Boys” and “Dreamgirls.” Remodeling in the Century II Concert Hall has made it possible to accommodate the massive “Lion King,” in which 40 actors tell the story of the lion Simba as he fights for his home and his life.
• Kansas Cosmosphere, Hutchinson: Space buffs will be able to mark the Cosmosphere’s 50th anniversary at a fundraiser on April 28 with a price of around $200 and astronauts representing all major space programs, including Kansans Joe Engle and Steve Hawley . A second happening, Aug. 24 to 26, is a family-oriented event surrounding the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. More than 20 people who worked with the plane, including Buz Carpenter who piloted the Blackbird that’s on display at the Cosmosphere, will be there to tell stories. There will also be children’s activities and a regional pilot fly-in. Admission prices will begin at $10.
• Kansas Aviation Museum: Open houses will mark two unveilings: March 8, of a $110,000 archive that will consolidate and better protect some of the museum’s most sensitive documents, including tech orders, manuals, photographs and drawings of airplanes, and periodicals, and June 7, of two 1937 wall hangings that used to hang in the old air terminal and haven’t been seen in 50 years. They depict the history of Wichita and will hang in the museum until the end of the year and then travel. Open houses 4 to 7 p.m., ceremonies at 5:30 p.m.
• Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum: The 80th anniversary of the electric guitar — played first in Wichita — will be celebrated with a display of historic and celebrity guitars from Memorial Day weekend through Halloween. And a new grant will provide the first of five years of exhibits on the area’s visual arts history. It will open March 30 and be on display for a year until the second year’s exhibit is unveiled.
• Tallgrass Film Festival: The festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary by making it the “biggest and best festival” yet, said director Lela Meadow-Conner. “We’ll utilize the downtown area and make it more like a festival,” highlighting city attractions. It will be Oct. 18 to 21. Six months before that event, on April 21, there will be a daylong minifest called VI to X at the Orpheum. It will give people who haven’t been to the festival an experience of what it’s like, with the showing of films old and new and a gala party afterward.
• Wichita Grand Opera will present yet this year “The Bat (Die Fledermaus)” on March 17 and 18, “Don Pasquale” on April 21 and 22, “Giselle” on May 2, and the free Opera on the Lake on May 19 at Bradley Fair.