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Blockbuster exhibits have made significant impact on economy

Anticipation builds for next big cultural exhibit

Organizers, business and government leaders are banking on millions of dollars rolling into the state when the Majesty of Spain Exhibition opens for a six-month run next year.

According to the tourism division of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, the 1996 Palaces of St. Petersburg: Russian Imperial Style Exhibition had a $61-million impact on the state. More than half of the 554,000 attendants of the event, which was the highest attended event in the U.S. that year, were from out of state.

The 1998 Splendors of Versailles Exhibition, with 271,500 visitors, had an estimated $30-million impact on Mississippi. The American Bus Association rated it the “Top Event in the U.S. for 1998” and it was the highest attended exhibition in the central U.S. even though it was the smallest of four cities that hosted major exhibits.

The Majesty of Spain Exhibition, organized by Jack Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, who also organized the other two major exhibitions, will run March 1 to Sept. 3, 2001, at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion in Jackson.

With a $9.8-million budget, the Majesty of Spain Exhibition, featuring more than 370 art objects from royal palaces in Spain from 1746 to 1833 never exhibited in North America, will receive funding by grants from the state of Mississippi, the city of Jackson, the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau and a host of private sector corporate and individual sponsors. Delta Airlines recently signed on as a sponsor, Kyle said.

“I think it’s going to be a great exhibition, well attended not only by people in Mississippi, but all over the Southeast,” said Rep. Charlie Capps, Jr. (D-Cleveland), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee has pledged $1.5 million for the event. “I think it will more than rival any of the exhibitions we’ve done in the past.”

Betsy Bradley, executive director of Mississippi Arts Commission, said the blockbuster exhibits have historically made a significant impact on the economy both directly through expenditures by the organization hosting the exhibit and indirectly through tourists’ expenditures.

“What’s interesting to me is that we have found, through research, that cultural tourists are different from regular tourists in that they tend to stay longer and spend more money on lodging and merchandise,” she said. “All of that improves the bottom line in Mississippi.”

Donna Dye, director of Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, said visitation to the museum increased 85% to 90% during the Palaces exhibit, contributing to a sales increase of 32%. During the Splendors exhibit, visitation increased 25%.

“A lot of people that came to Splendors had already seen the Old Capitol and we had a more local audience,” Dye said. “The visitation wasn’t as great, but it was still significant to us.”

State sales tax revenues exceeded $4.4 million during the Palaces exhibit, Kyle said.

“With an initial investment of $1 million from the Metro Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau and $1.5 million from MDECD, that alone was a good return on investment,” he said.

The Palaces exhibit, with a budget of $11.1 million, included investments of $1.3 million in corporate and private contributions and $7.3 million in ticket sales and gift shop revenue. The Splendors exhibit, with a budget of $10.6 million, included funding of $2 million from MDECD, $1 million from MJC&VB, and $2.2 million from corporations, foundations and private donations.

“Conservative estimates place the publicity impact for both exhibits at more than $100 million,” Kyle said.

“We were able to attract ‘Good Morning America’ to telecast four live segments. Figaro magazine reached 25 million Frenchmen with one article. Those are only two examples.”

Katrina Myricks, education committee chairman for the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, said exhibits from Russia, France and Spain provide students who cannot travel abroad with an opportunity to see firsthand what is being taught in the classroom.

“When I go out of state, I am often asked by business associates when the next exhibit is coming to Jackson,” Myricks said. “The economic boost from their attendance is very beneficial to Jackson, which doesn’t have casino income, and to the state.”

Kyle said it was too early to guesstimate attendance for the Spanish exhibit.

“One can never predict how many people will or will not attend exhibitions,” he said. “The focus that we want the public to continue to look for with these projects is what we can do to fulfill our main objectives of cultural education. About 825,000 people attended the first two exhibits, the most highly attended cultural events in the state’s history.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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