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Dresden ticket sales slightly down, enthusiasm up

Exhibition bringing international attention to Mississippi

Dresden ticket sales slightly down, enthusiasm up’,3318,’

JACKSON – Even though tickets are selling slower than usual to The Glory of Baroque Dresden exhibition, sponsors are pleased with the media attention the international exhibition has brought to Mississippi, and are optimistic about a permanent, year-round exhibition.

“The Glory of Baroque Dresden is a tremendously high-quality exhibition,” said Gov. Haley Barbour. “I’ve been there a couple of times, and those who see it have to love it. It`s diverse, from clothing and armaments to jewelry and porcelain. Some of the things are genuinely remarkable like the Green Diamond. It`s a real credit to Jackson and our state as well as to (director) Jack Kyle that it has come here. The Dresden Green has never been displayed outside Germany except three times: Moscow, Washington, D.C., and once in Jackson, Miss. I say they chose the best for last.”

John McCullouch, president of BellSouth-Mississippi, lead sponsor of the event and president of the Mississippi Economic Council, said, “It just amazes everyone that Jackson, Mississippi, has been able to attract these world-class exhibitions and bring in people from all over the United States and other countries as well.”

“Being able to accomplish this is a wonderful way to help change the image some individuals have of Mississippi,” he said. “And, as to those people who come to tour the exhibition, we have an opportunity to influence their perception of us as a people and as a state. They see Mississippi`s natural beauty, clean environment, hospitality and quality of life and want to come back again. They also spread the word about what a wonderful hidden gem Mississippi really is.”

The Mississippi Commission on International Cultural Exchange Inc. (MCICE) needs 320,000 visitors for the $9.8 million exhibition to break even. By mid-April, about 50,000 tickets had been sold to the exhibition, which opened March 1, compared to more than 100,000 sold during the first month for The Majesty of Spain in 2001.

The timing for the required Mississippi end-of-school curriculum tests, special activities, higher gas prices and uncertainty about fiscal year 2005 school funding have been blamed for the drop in student attendance. In 1996, about 141,000 students attended the Palaces of St. Petersburg exhibition, compared to 84,000 students at the Splendors of Versailles in 1998 and 120,000 students for the Spanish exhibition. Expectations are high for school groups to tour the exhibition at the beginning of the fall semester, before it closes Sept. 6.

“It`s not how you start, it`s how you finish,” said Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) tourism director Craig Ray. “The quality has been good, but the quantity has not been so good. We’re working on the latter.”

MDA acquired two front section quarter-page ads about the exhibition in The Wall Street Journal. The German Information Center paid for four half-page color ads in USA Today. The marketing blitz, including paid advertising and media coverage, has saturated a 500-mile radius of Jackson. In April, a typical day for Kyle included a 5:30 a.m. television appearance on a New Orleans station, a noon appearance on WLBT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Jackson, an MCICE board meeting at 3 p.m., following by a dinner meeting. En route to New Orleans, Kyle was a phone-in guest on the radio show of Paul Ott Carruth, who has twice toured the exhibition.

“It`s a hectic pace, but that`s what it takes to keep the momentum going,” Kyle said April 20. “Last week`s ticket sales were good, with many more walk-ups than usual. The volume of calls is positive. I’m waiting to see if this is a trend or a bump, but it looks positive.”

The ticket cost of $20 is very reasonable, wrote Frank Foster, an art professor at Victor Valley College in Victorville, Calif., who added that he would require all of his students to attend if it was economically feasible.

Donna Frankiewicz, a travel consultant for the “Evening at Emory” program at Emory University in Atlanta, has followed Kyle`s exhibitions since 1996 and brought a dozen people to the March 1 opening. Seeing the June 2003 Southern Living article, “The King of Art, Jack Kyle, Woos and Wins Wonderful Cultural Treasures to Jackson, Miss.,” alerted her to the upcoming exhibition. Darla Atlas’ Dallas Morning News article, “Southern Cities Welcome Blockbuster Art Exhibits,” appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on April 28.

“We have a lot of competition in the Atlanta area from churches and other groups traveling to the exhibition this summer, or our group would have been larger,” she said.

Seeing the Chinese Dragoon vases for which Augustus the Strong swapped 600 soldiers was a highlight of the exhibition, said Frankiewicz.

“The people in Jackson are the friendliest we’ve encountered in a long time,” she said. “Our group loved the Edison Walthall Hotel and getting back to the Old Deep South. If Jack had a permanent exhibition hall, we’d probably be over there several times a year.”

Jerry Berger, director of the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Ill., brought 46 people to the exhibition on a two-day trip to Mississippi by chartered bus.

“Almost everybody commented on how clean Mississippi was,” he said. “Everything was well kept. Everyone we came in contact with was very cordial, very welcoming. We felt completely at ease.”

The tour included side trips to Natchez to view antebellum homes and a stop in Clarksdale to tour the Delta Blues Museum and dine at Madidi, the restaurant owned by movie star Morgan Freeman and local attorney Bill Luckett.

“It was a great trip, all centered around the exhibition,” said Berger. “If it hadn`t been for the Dresden exhibit, some of us might never have visited Mississippi.”

On April 21, Suzy Nelson, an assistant professor of interior design at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., brought a group of 28 college students after Kyle visited her class.

“I’ve been to all four exhibitions, and they’re so broad-based that there`s something of interest for everyone, from those who are extremely knowledgeable to children,” she said. “It was valuable to me as a teacher of decorative arts history for my students to see the exhibition. Architectural history is incorporated into all the rooms. We were also able to walk next door to see the Paris exhibit.” (Paris Moderne: Art Deco Works from the Musee d’Art Moderns de la Ville de Paris will be featured at the Mississippi Museum of Art until July 11.)

The cultural center`s access to the interstate and bus parking is very convenient for same day tours, said Nelson.

“People were very gracious to us,” she said. “The only downside is that my students wanted a fast-food facility nearby simply because they don`t have much money, and there wasn`t really any place for them to go. Some of us dined in the exhibition hall, which was nice, but a little pricier than McDonald`s, for instance. Others went into a couple of downtown caf

About Lynne W. Jeter

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