Monday, August 08, 2011

A centre on the edge: the audience

The Govett-Brewster is projecting an annual maximum audience for its proposed Len Lye Centre of 56,000. At the moment there is no mention of what their acceptable minimum is but they are clearly hoping for the 'Bilbao effect' big time.

Warming to that theme architect Patterson told the Taranaki Daily Herald that the Guggenheim Bilbao had, "turned a sleepy seaside town into one of Europe's top tourist destinations". Sounds good except that Bilbao was already a commercial hub of the fifth biggest economy in Europe, and calling it a seaside town is like telling the people of Sydney they live in a village. Besides which the Guggenheim Museum is one of the richest and most famous contemporary art collections in the world. So you do have to wonder how realistic the estimated audience for the Len Lye Centre will prove. Is the G-B suggesting that virtually all the its annual visitors will also visit the LLC? And if they do, and given the common entrance, how are they going to count them? 

Counting audiences in museums has always been something of a mystical process a fact that was entertainingly revealed some years ago when auditors found the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt was getting a decent wack of its annual visitation courtesy of accommodating birds flying to and fro past the electronic beam recorders. Anyone who has watched bored staff clicking audiences in and out of art museums will have some idea of how arbitrary the process can be. As one senior museum person told us, “the only way you can guarentee attendance figures is when they are matched to ticket sales.” 

From press reports it sounds like the Govett-Brewster gets around 60,000 people in a year of which you could assume around 20 percent is represented by school parties. It’s a respectable figure for a catchment area of just over 100,000, even assuming a fair number of them are multiple visits, and you could imagine that for the first year the novelty value of the LLC will be a serious attractor. But the Len Lye Centre is also likely to be far more static than the constantly changing programme of the G-B. Keeping numbers up will be very tough. The fact that there is no admission charge to either the G-B or the LLC certainly helps attendances especially when you add in non-voluntary visitors like school kids. Even then, you could probably divide the LLC's visitor goal by at least two and maybe more. That said, 25,000 plus would be a very respectable annual tally for a highly specialist art museum five hours drive from any major city.

You can read part one of this post on the Len Lye Centre here.