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Van Gogh Show Was Economic Boon, Study Says

Art: LACMA exhibit brought $122 million into county, showing value of cultural events as tourist attractions, officials say.

August 27, 1999|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The recent landmark exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh paintings is estimated to have added $122 million to the local economy--evidence, tourism officials said Thursday, that cultural activities can be lucrative attractions to market to travelers.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art spent more than $10 million to present and advertise the collection of 70 works of one of the world's most popular artists. Interest in "Van Gogh's Van Goghs" was so overwhelming that LACMA extended its run by more than a month and kept the exhibit open 24 hours to accommodate visitors.

According to a study conducted by Wyoming-based research firm Morey & Associates, the 17-week exhibition attracted 821,000 visitors, more than half of those from outside Los Angeles County, who spent roughly $48 million on food, shopping, entertainment, accommodations and other services. The show also generated nearly 3,000 jobs, $39 million in wages and income, and nearly $3 million in tax revenue.

The exhibition also accounted for 82,000 hotel stays, with 36% of attendees spending at least one night in the region.

LACMA president Andrea Rich said the museum contracted the study partly to show county taxpayers the return they are getting from their investment in LACMA, which in its most recent fiscal year received $15 million from the county--less than a third of its $48-million budget.

The study also found that 55% of exhibition-goers came from outside Los Angeles County, with 75% of respondents saying the show was their primary reason for visiting the county. About 11% came from Northern California, and about 13% came from out of state. Less than 1% came from out of the country.

Before the show's Jan. 17 opening, LACMA, along with the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau and a handful of corporate sponsors, spent $1.5 million on a national ad campaign to lure so-called cultural tourists to Los Angeles for the show.

Robert Barrett, who oversaw the marketing effort, said the effort appears to have paid off and justifies similar marketing efforts for future shows.

On the heels of Van Gogh, LACMA teamed up with Spanish-language KMEX-TV to plug an exhibition of works by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera that ran May 30 through Aug. 16. The show drew 180,846 visitors to become the museum's third-most-popular show in the past eight years. A special promotion advertised on KMEX even accounted for LACMA's largest one-day, general admission turnout of 11,000, museum spokesman Adam Coyne said.

The museum has already set aside roughly $400,000 to promote its two next marquee shows featuring artifacts from the Roman town of Pompeii and decorative arts favored by three of ancient Egypt's most famous rulers.

Morey & Associates surveyed 346 Van Gogh attendees between January and April. Michael Morey said the sample had a margin of error of plus or minus 5%. His firm has done similar economic impact reports for Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Seattle Aquarium.

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