Friday, May 24, 2013


Spare a thought for Te Papa as it prepares for not one but two blockbuster exhibitions this year (Andy Warhol and Treasures of the Aztecs). Both are crucial to ensuring attendances do not fall below the 1.3 million Te Papa has settled into over recent years. The trouble is that blockbusters tend to be expensive to mount and it's hard to predict the big winners. It certainly can be a complete crapshoot when it comes to making money or even breaking even.

Insight into what is involved in an Aztec Treasures type show has been revealed by the Australian Museum in Sydney with some numbers around its Alexander the Great: 2000 Years of Treasures from St Petersburg. Alexander pulled in a modest 161,145 visitors and according to the museum will ‘hopefully’ break even.  For context Te Papa's Monet and the Impressionists attracted 152,000 visitors in 2009

We did some estimates on what break even might mean for Alexander. Ticket prices were $28 Adult; $72 Family (2 adults + 2 children); $21 Concession; $14 Child and we figured of the 161,145 visitors 55 percent were adult, 25 percent kids, 5 percent families and 10 percent concessions. Then we threw in 5 percent for free admissions. In terms of ticket revenue this all adds up to around $4 million and yet Alexander still only broke even (hopefully). And the costs can be huge, Alexander required 29 curators to accompany it across the world. Still, the Australian Museum remains game; it's one of the Australian venues taking Te Papa's Aztec show.

The investment into these blockbusters is more about marketing the museum and attracting attention than it is about making a return. That’s why although museums can allow some blockbusters to fall on the red side of the ledger, they really do have to get those numbers through the door.
Images: Back in the day queuing for Tutankhamun at the British Museum in 1971