In London, a series of blockbuster art shows are drawing record crowds

Nick Clark, The Independent [UK] newspaper, 3/9/12

Blockbuster art shows [have] become the hottest ticket in London in the run-up to the Olympics. The National Gallery [extended] opening times for its Leonardo exhibition, the enormous success of which led organisers to consider 24-hour opening. Experts predict  the public's appetite for art will see more exhibitions burning the midnight oil. The National Portrait Gallery yesterday announced it had made 7,000 extra tickets available for "Lucian Freud Portraits", which opened at the beginning of February, after extending its Saturday opening hours. The exhibition, which has already seen 50,000 visitors, already opens late on Thursday and Friday. Denise Vogelsang, the National Portrait Gallery's head of marketing, said: "This year is such an incredible year for art in London. Galleries are increasingly looking to opening longer because there are so many blockbuster shows." The National Gallery had desperate visitors camping out to get their hands on some of the 500 tickets for Leonardo released every morning until the exhibition closed. The final attendance figures hit almost 324,000, the most popular and fastest-selling show for a National Gallery exhibition of that size. The Royal Academy has also seen queues for its exhibition of works by David Hockney. The show "A Bigger Picture" prompted the gallery to extend its opening times until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The Institute of Contemporary Arts has decided to go from a five-day operation to six and will open an hour earlier. The ICA will open from 11am rather than midday [for] its new exhibition "Remote Control." ICA managing director Karen Turner said it was a "reflection of the increasing demand from the public".


Commentary: The pitfalls of blockbuster museum exhibits  Colleen Dilenschneider, Know Your Own Bone blog, 3/27/12

Museums often develop a cycle wherein they rely heavily on visitation from special exhibits - rather than their permanent collections - in order to meet their basic, annual goals. This is a case of "death by curation" - bringing in bigger and bigger exhibits in order to keep the lights on. Museums often fail to recognize that the best part of the museum experience, according to visitors and substantial data, is who folks visit and interact with instead of what they see.Understanding that a museum visit is more about people than it is about objects can help museums break the vicious cycle of "death by curation," and help them develop more sustainable business practices. Even members, whom museums often assume are more connected to their permanent collections than the general public, have been trained to respond almost exclusively to "blockbuster" stimuli. To wit: The National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study indicates that, of lapsed museum members with an intent to renew their memberships, 88.6% state that they will renew their memberships "when they next visit." Of these same lapsed members, 62.5% indicate that they will defer their next visit "until there is a new exhibit." In other words, museums have trained even their closest constituents to wait for these expensive exhibits in order to justify their return visit. Instead of relying on the rotation of expensive exhibits, many successful museums instead invest in their frontline people and provide them with the tools to facilitate interactions that dramatically improve the visitor experience. If the institution focuses on increasing the overall experience, then the museum's value-for-cost perception increases. It allows the museum to charge more for admission without alienating audiences because [they] are willing to pay a premium for a positive experience.


Commentary: How blockbuster shows can increase audience loyalty

Jill Robinson, TRG Arts blog, 4/3/12

Colleen Dilenschneider makes the point that blockbusters can increase annual revenue expectations to often unreasonable levels. The blockbuster-addicted museum then sinks more money into further special exhibits that may not be as successful as the first blockbuster, or even break even. Over two decades, we've seen this pattern play out in performing arts organizations, as well as museums and other membership-based attractions. Of course, the blockbusters themselves are usually not the problem. The way that an arts organization handles a blockbuster can be. Blockbusters have the potential to leave the organization in the lurch afterwards when 1) the previous spike in revenue leaves staff hungry for more and 2) patrons acquired from a blockbuster don't come back. TRG and other research bears this out; just one in five patrons returns to an arts organization after their first visit. Blockbusters also have the potential to create sustaining revenue long after they finish their runs. Using simple best practices, staff can leverage blockbuster programming to encourage repeat attendance. We recently featured Phoenix Theatre in a case study about leveraging blockbusters -- in this case, Les Miserables. There are two crucial factors to retaining patrons after a blockbuster:

Invite them back. This sounds simple, but surprisingly many organizations don't ask patrons back after they attend as a ticket buyer. Sending a simple, strategically timed email or postcard with the right offer can be all it takes. And remember: once a patron has made a transaction with your organization, you may follow-up with them one time by email, provided that you also display an opt-out for future email communication. Make sure that you make that offer a good one. Being able to go back to new patrons via email has huge return-on-investment potential.
Capture contact information. In order to invite visitors back, you must have their contact information - ideally, name, street address, city and zip plus email address. All of that information can greatly inform your understanding of your patrons in addition to providing you with a means of contacting new patrons. Museums often do not collect non-member contact information, and many performing arts organizations don't collect information for patrons who order online or walk up to buy their tickets on the day of the performance.

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