Editor’s note: MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter visited Spain Oct. 9-14 with a group of journalists representing magazines, journals and newspapers from
the South. During the weeklong trip, the group toured museums, palaces and workshops in Madrid, nearby Aranjeuz, El Escorial, El Pardo, Taller El Barco and
Villalba to study items from the royal collections from the Museo del Prado and Patrimonio Nacional that will on loan to the Majesty of Spain Exhibit March 1 to Sept.
3, 2001 at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion in Jackson.
MADRID, SPAIN – Every weekday, more than five million people fill the streets of Madrid, Spain, which includes nearly two million daily commuters from pockets
of population in the surrounding desolate countryside where spaghetti westerns were once filmed.
Listed as the world’s top conference destination in 1998, according to the International Conference and Convention Association, Madrid bustles day and night, with
never-ending traffic and a shortage of taxicabs, leaving visitors to wonder, “When do they sleep?”
Every year, about two million people pour into Spain’s palaces and museums, located in and near Madrid, to revel in the many royal arts and treasures, including the
latest painting the Spanish government recently acquired from private hands for $23 million, “The Duchess of Chin Chon.” Juan Ramon Sanchez del Peral of the Prado
Museum remarked that the painting was “so tender and intimate, a style ahead of its time,” indicating how beloved their art is to Spaniards.
So it was quite a coup when Delta native Jack Kyle, who turned 50 on Nov. 2, talked the Spanish government into loaning Mississippi many precious pieces, including
a 55-foot royal gondola from the 18th century, more than 600 pieces of art, including 17 rare royal clocks, many prized cartoons and tapestries by the prolific artist
Francisco de Goya, Anton Rafael Meng’s “Crucifixion of Christ,” considered Spain’s most important neoclassical painting and major works by Giovanni Battista
The occasion marks the first time the country has agreed to such an arrangement, which will be on view exclusively at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion in Jackson March 1
to Sept. 3, 2001, saving art buffs the trip half a world away to view the royal treasures.
The exhibit will span the reigns of Fernando VI, Carlos III, Carlos IV, and Fernando VII, focusing on the years 1746 to 1833, during a time when Spain supported
the U.S. quest for independence. In Mississippi, the Spanish connection began much earlier, when Hernando DeSoto discovered the Mississippi River in 1541.
With a $9.8 million budget, The Majesty of Spain exhibit almost seems like a bargain, following the $11.1 million Palaces of St. Petersburg exhibit in 1996, and the
$10.8 million Versailles exhibit in 1998.
When the final numbers were tallied for the St. Petersburg exhibit, it was the highest attended event of the year in the U.S., with 553,894 paid visitors. Surprisingly,
nearly half of those traveled from out of state, primarily from Louisiana, Alabama and Texas. Because of the DeSoto connection, Kyle is hoping to draw more visitors
from North Mississippi and Tennessee to the Spanish exhibit.
Even though one million people could be accommodated during the six month-long exhibition, only 350,000 paid visitors are needed to break even. Already, the
American Bus Association has named the Majesty of Spain exhibit the top U.S. event for 2001.
Regardless of the break-even point, the economic impact of such an attraction to the Jackson area – and Mississippi – reaches into the millions. The Palaces project
generated a $61 million economic impact in the community, with $4.4 million in sales tax alone.
Even though Jackson was the smallest of four cities to host major exhibits in 1998, the Versailles exhibit reported the highest attendance in the region, with 274,000
paid visitors, attributing to an estimated $30 million impact for the state. That doesn’t include millions of dollars in national and international publicity generated for
With all three exhibits, more than $4 million has been spent on upgrading the Mississippi Arts Pavilion, including the installation of a $1.3 million climate-controlled
HVAC system, a new roof, and more than $335,000 on interior and exterior improvements, including landscaping, lighting, irrigation, installation of a fountain, urns, the
colossal bust of Andrew Jackson and more.
The exhibit’s economic impact has a longer reach than just the magnolia state. In Aranjuez, the Porcelain Room and the Hall of Stuccoes are being reproduced for
$780,000 and $350,000, respectively, and are employing more than 100 artisans who are hungry for work.
For Sebastian Fernandez, 28, an artisan from Argentina who moved to Aranjuez with his Spanish wife, the chance to oversee the replication of the Hall of Stuccoes,
which involves coordinating 300 pieces in dizzying combinations of shades and textures of scagliola, was an opportunity for a steady income.
For a part-time English translator and single mother of three children, ages 9 to 13, who facilitates communication between exhibit officials, the project provided an
opportunity to move from Switzerland and live near family and friends.
Before negotiating a deal with Spain, Kyle toured Egypt, Italy, and England to explore exhibition projects. After viewing his handiwork firsthand, and seeing the
immense respect Kyle has among foreign diplomats, it’s exciting to ponder what he might be up to next. Mississippi would bode well to continue its support of the
Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, of which Kyle is executive director.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com.