Monet exhibit on track to break attendance record at Baltimore Museum of Art

November 19, 1991|By Eric Siegel

Monet is proving to be a magnet for the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Sometime soon, perhaps as early as this week, the BMA will sell the 111,001st ticket to its current exhibit of 32 works by the French Impressionist master, thereby assuring that the museum will break its eight-year-old attendance record for a single show.

More than 100,000 tickets have been sold to the exhibit, which is on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and is about one-third of the way into its three-month run. Another 50,000 tickets, each timed for a specific time of entry, must be sold out of about 100,000 remaining time slots to cover the show's costs, according to museum director Arnold L. Lehman.

He expressed confidence in reaching that goal, saying ticket sales were going "fabulously."

"Just try to get in [Saturday] or [Thursday] night," he added.

In addition, Mr. Lehman said sales of Monet memorabilia at the museum's gift shop are "two to three times" what officials had anticipated.

But while business is booming at the BMA, outside merchants who were counting on the exhibit to boost their sales say Monet has proven so far to be a mixed bag. Restaurants and hotels near the museum report a noticeable increase in traffic that they say is particularly welcome in the current economy. But downtown hotels, which have been using the exhibit as a linchpin for weekend getaway packages for out-of-town visitors, say its has not been the lure they hoped it would be and cite the recession as the reason.

Frazier's restaurant, an institution on 33rd Street in Hampden for half a century, began advertising its proximity to the BMA when the Monet exhibit opened and has seen its business increase by 15 percent, "which in this recessionary time is wonderful," said owner Barbara Greenspun.

Similarly, at the Homewood Deli on St. Paul Street -- within walking distance of the BMA -- receipts have increased by up to 40 percent on weekends, said manager Anil Dogra. "A good exhibition might bring an increase of 15 percent," he said. "This is exceptional."

And at the nearby Inn at the Colonnade on University Parkway, 3 percent to 6 percent of the hotel's 125 rooms have been taken by on weekends by guests going to the Monet exhibit, said general manager James Lynn.

But a special promotion at the downtown Hyatt Regency, offering a pair of tickets to the show with overnight accommodations, has been "a disappointment," according to reservations agent Bill Paul. He said the hotel bought 50 tickets for each weekend the show is open but on some weekends has sold as few as one-fifth of them. "We're not really benefiting. It's kind of a sore subject around here," he said. "The way the economy is going could be affecting [the promotion]."

A similar promotion at the Harbor Court Hotel has drawn a "steady but not overwhelming" response, said sales manager Monika Schieferstein. "We think the economy is holding a lot of people back from staying overnight," she said.

In contrast, a deal designed for area residents that offers lunch at Brighton's Restaurant, two Monet tickets and limousine transportation to the BMA has been an "extraordinary" success, she said.

Local cab companies, whose drivers were invited to a pre-opening promotion, say there has been some increase in fares to and from the museum. Mark Joseph, president of Yellow Cab, says his company has noticed a "fair amount" of midday

business to and from downtown to the museum from workers visiting the exhibit on their lunch hour.

But ridership on a special MTA shuttle bus from a Memorial Stadium parking lot to the museum has been slow, said MTA spokeswoman Cathy Bowers. Through the first 17 days of the exhibit, the service, which runs every half hour, has only been averaging 123 passengers per day, she said.

Meanwhile, Monet ticket sales have already surpassed BMA attendance for "Dr. Seuss From Then to Now," which attracted 95,000 visitors in 1988, and are poised to break the record 111,000 tickets sold to the 1983 "Faberge: The Forbes Magazine Collection" show of jewelry and ornaments.

Tickets -- at up to $6.50 a piece -- are almost completely sold out for weekends, with Thursday evenings also selling fast, followed by weekday mornings and then weekday afternoons.

And the museum shop has sold 13,500 posters; 5,000 calendars and 5,000 boxes of note cards, far outstripping projections. Museum director Lehman said he did not take into account the fact that the show was coinciding with a "holiday period."

"People are not just buying items as mementoes of the show, they're buying as holiday gifts as well," he said.

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