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Tut Show Likely to Draw 900,000

In a bid to boost turnout for boy king's return, LACMA extends run by five days. The 1978 exhibition was seen by more than 1.25 million.

November 03, 2005|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

King Tut's L.A. empire will probably number more than 900,000 subjects by the time his reign ends at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where his treasures have been on display since mid-June. That figure for an L.A. art exhibition would be topped only by Tut himself: More than 1.25 million people turned out for his 1978 LACMA show.

In a down-to-the-wire bid to maximize the boy king's draw, LACMA is extending the run five days, through Nov. 20, the head of Arts and Exhibitions International, a tour co-producer, said Wednesday. Longer visiting hours also may be announced. Museum officials declined to comment; a news conference on the exhibition's economic impact is scheduled for this afternoon at LACMA.

Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian government's antiquities chief and prime mover in sending artifacts from Tut's tomb on tour, said Wednesday that he would be disappointed if "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" didn't command a million viewers in L.A., its first stop on a four-city U.S. tour.

Ticket buyers have paid record prices -- $25 weekdays, $30 on weekends, plus transaction fees -- to see the 120 artifacts, 50 of them from Tut's tomb, which is fabled as the most intact and dazzling Pharaonic trove ever unearthed.

If attendance reaches 1 million, Hawass said, Egypt's share of the gate will guarantee that it will reap $9 million from Tut's L.A. sojourn -- the goal he had set for boosting coffers for his ambitious program of preserving ancient Egyptian monuments and building new museums.

"If the exhibition will not reach a million, it is not the fault of King Tut, but the people who handled the exhibit," Hawass said from Cairo. He said the publicity effort between the nonprofit LACMA and its for-profit partners could have been better coordinated, and that there should have been more lectures, parties and other public events to generate maximum buzz.

Not so, said John Norman, president of Arts and Exhibitions International, an Aurora, Ohio-based company that teamed with AEG, the L.A.-based sports and entertainment giant, to produce and promote the U.S. tour. "Nationally we were everywhere" with ads and news coverage, Norman said. And special events, especially corporate parties that included after-hours viewings, took place nearly "every single night."

"I'm not sure how you can say it wasn't heavily promoted and extremely successful," Norman said. "For five months we'll do over 900,000 people. If all four cities do similar numbers, everybody, including the Egyptians, will be pleased. We're off to a great start."

The Tut exhibition has been open seven days a week since June 16. The peak single-day attendance thus far is nearly 8,000, Norman said, and gift shop cash registers ring up sales of $30,000 to $50,000 per day.

Tut has been a boon to L.A.'s tourism business, said Michael McDowell, senior director of cultural tourism for LA Inc., the trade group that is partly funded by the city to promote L.A. attractions.

Based on figures supplied by AEG, McDowell said, 810,000 Tut tickets had been sold as of Oct. 25, and 52% of those were bought by people who traveled at least 50 miles. Out-of-towners had spent an estimated $112 million in L.A. as of Oct. 25, McDowell said, while locals spent an additional $26 million.

Applying standard economic multipliers used by the U.S. Department of Commerce, McDowell said, Tut had generated $200 million in spending.

The figures come from a statistical "snapshot," not a formal economic impact study, McDowell said, and were designed to "err on the conservative side."

Tut has a snappy, hip-hop-derived marketing slogan for his next stop, the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the exhibition opens Dec. 15 for a four-month run. There, the local tourism bureau has dubbed him "The Original King of Bling," and the catch-phrase emblazons a huge billboard now hanging in New York City's Times Square.

"That's great if Florida wants to make it more fun and hip, but we were trying to respect LACMA's role [as a major art museum] and treat it as a serious exhibition," McDowell said.

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