Even though traffic was slower than usual at the mid-point of the Mississippi Commission for International Culture Exchange’s (MCICE) fourth international exhibition, The Glory of Baroque Dresden, director Jack Kyle remains enthusiastic about meeting attendance projections.
“I’ve delivered a world-class exhibition for Mississippi,” he said, “and I can only hope the people of this great state will want to see it.”
As of July 1, approximately 85,000 tickets had been sold — 40% off attendance compared to The Majesty of Spain exhibition. Attendance by students, from kindergarten to college level, is off about 90,000. In 2001, The Majesty of Spain drew 320,000 visitors. In 1998, Splendors of Versailles drew 271,000 visitors. In 1996, Palaces of St. Petersburg drew 554,000 visitors. Approximately 320,000 tickets need to be sold for the Dresden exhibition to break even, said Kyle.
“The Glory of Baroque Dresden is so outstanding and I am so sad it is not having the attendance of the others,” said Lani Riches, co-owner of Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, the only hotel property in Mississippi listed in the Small Luxury Hotel Collections of the World. “In every speech the governor and our director of tourism give, they should be promoting this exhibit. In my mind, it is a must-see experience.”
Earlier this month, Gov. Haley Barbour and his wife, Marsha, filmed a 30-second television spot with about 1,000 students and volunteers. A radio spot was also recorded to target Mississippians. The public service announcements immediately began running on television and radio stations and cable companies around the state. Only about 10,000 from the Jackson metro area, which has about 400,000 residents, have visited the $9.8-million exhibit of treasures from the State Art Collections Dresden.
“Three things have affected this exhibit, much more so than the other exhibits,” speculated Ovid Vickers, a retired English professor from East Central Community College and an MCICE volunteer since 1996. “One, because Germany did not support the U.S. in Iraq, some people wonder why they should support a German exhibit. Also, in the minds of some people from a generation past who lived through World War II, Germans are still looked upon as our enemies. Two, the cuts in education budgets have affected the number of schoolchildren who have passed through this exhibition. Schools are reluctant to spend money as freely. And three, the name of the exhibition didn’t carry the name of a country. Unfortunately, a great many people don’t know what baroque means or where Dresden is. People have said, ‘What is that? Where is that?’ If the name had been called Treasures from Germany, it might have been a factor.”
BellSouth-Mississippi president John M. McCullouch said the fact that attendance is down at the Glory of Baroque Dresden Exhibition is somewhat surprising because the artifacts on display are so impressive.
“I urge businesses to take advantage of the uniqueness of the exhibition,” he said. “Consider providing a family day for company employees or hosting your next meeting at the exhibition. BellSouth is not only providing our employees with an employee day on Sunday, July 18, but also we’ve promoted the exhibition through regional bill messaging to 15 million customers and through Mississippi telephone directory covers and articles.”
McCullouch encourages businesses with ties to an education institution to consider funding a trip to the exhibition for schoolchildren.
“Lanier High School is BellSouth’s Adopt-A-School, and we provided funding for language/arts classes from Lanier to view the exhibition last spring,” he said. “There’s almost a month between when school opens in August and the exhibition closes in September. If you’re a business owner, contact your local school administrator or superintendent and offer to fund a trip to the Glory of Baroque Dresden. The exhibition offers students a means to enhance their social studies, geography, and cultural learning knowledge.”
Mississippi Development Authority tourism director Craig Ray said the state “is constantly helping promote the exhibition.”
“We certainly hope it will help,” he said.
Riches, a native of Los Angeles who lives 10 minutes from the Getty Museum there and lives part time in Mississippi, said the Dresden exhibition is “as outstanding as anywhere in the world,” easily comparable to cultural offerings in the nation’s second largest city.
“It is truly first class and adds such pride to Mississippi,” she said. “I do hope and pray it can be turned around so we will once again have another exhibit in two years.”
Peter Gottwald, who heads the Germany Embassy, pointed out that Mississippi successfully competed with museums around the world to gain the largest-ever exhibition of German art.
“I saw the exhibition in June and left deeply impressed,” he said. “It was wonderful! The Glory of Baroque Dresden allows us to unearth an impressive treasure from a period that shaped first Germany and then Europe’s and world culture. We are proud that the German head of government, Chancellor Schroeder, opened the exhibition in February. You know, we in Germany think every region is important. Germany is not only Berlin, and the United States is more than the east coast.”
Already, Kyle and others are looking ahead. Archduke Geza von Habsburg, the grandson of Augustus III and the great-grandson of Augustus the Strong, the two rulers on which the Dresden exhibition centers, recently toured the exhibit and expressed an interest in developing an exhibition on the Habsburgs. Earlier this month, noting a swell in traffic, volunteers were speculating about the origin country of the next exhibition: Italy? Holland?
“I’ve got a concept in mind for one of the greatest exhibitions ever created in the history of mankind,” Kyle told Wall Street Journal reporter Taylor Holliday. “But I need a new building first.”
His vision: a $100-million arts palace rising from the bluffs of the Pearl River overlooking downtown Jackson. It would house borrowed art year-round on a rotating, long-term basis from several major international museum partners.
“There’s been a new surge of interest lately,” said Vickers. “Today and last week, we had very good crowds. This morning, the governor was there with a group of people who had been invited to breakfast. Perhaps word is getting out about the exhibit.”
The Glory of Baroque Dresden runs through September 6 at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.
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