Jack Kyle is closing the chapter on bringing world-class international art exhibitions to the Magnolia State.
The Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange (MCICE), which brought to Jackson exhibitions highlighting Russia, France, Spain and Germany, is dissolving, and Kyle, its director, is selling artwork to cover the deficit derived from the Glory of Baroque Dresden exhibition that ran March 1 to September 6, 2004.
“We’re sad the program is ending,” said Kyle, “but we’re focused on finding the proper placement for these artworks.”
Soon after Kyle joined MCICE in 1995, the Minter City native wowed historians and art lovers worldwide by convincing Russian officials to temporarily part with artwork from the rich Russian imperial era featuring leaders from Peter the Great to the last tsar, Nicholas II.
The Palaces of St. Petersburg: Russian Imperial Style in 1996, featuring five opulent palace rooms and six galleries from Peterhof, Catherine Palace at Tsarskoje Selo, Gatchina and Pavlovsk, drew the largest exhibition crowd in the U.S., selling 554,000 tickets and providing an economic punch of $61 million.
Two years later, Kyle brought to the Mississippi Arts Pavilion the Splendors of Versailles, a $10.6-million collection depicting the best art pieces of historical French chateau. A reporter from Augusta, Ga., reported “this capital city of the nation’s poorest state has landed … the largest exhibition of treasures from the French palace ever presented outside its decadent gates.” The American Bus Association rated it the year’s number one U.S. attraction. The exhibition drew slightly less than half the Russian exhibition visitors. Still, the 271,000 tickets sold prompted an economic impact of $40 million.
In 2001, Kyle brought home The Majesty of Spain: Royal Collections from the Museo del Prado & Patrimonio Nacional, the largest exhibition of Spanish national treasures ever to visit North America. The blockbuster exhibition consisted of more than 600 fine and decorative arts drawn exclusively from the collections of Spain’s royal palaces and the world-renowned Prado Museum in Madrid. Approximately 320,000 tickets were sold to the exhibition, which had an estimated impact of $41 million.
By the time Kyle opened The Glory of Baroque Dresden exhibition, interest had waned in viewing the $10-million project that appeared exclusively in Jackson during 2004, even though it consisted of more than 400 works from the State Art Collections Dresden, was the first major exhibition from Dresden presented in North America since the reunification of East and West Germany, and reflected Baroque art during the time August the Strong and his son August III were electors of Saxony and kings of Poland.
Surprised by the numbers
Of the 133,000 visitors — the lowest attendance of the four exhibitions — some 100,000 were adults. Of those, 63,000 were from out of state. The economic impact was estimated between $25 million and $30 million, but the exhibition was left with a deficit of $2.1 million.
“I can’t say scientifically why there was a lack of attendance,” said Kyle. “I was surprised that only 37,000 adult Mississippians toured the exhibition. I’m not critical of anyone for not attending. That’s a personal prerogative. But I was surprised.”
The economy and soaring fuel prices may have contributed to the low attendance. Some people flatly refused to support an exhibition from a European country that did not support U.S. action in Iraq.
“I’m sorry people can’t separate culture from politics, but again, that’s a personal prerogative,” said Kyle. “People have to realize that Germany is still a major ally of the U.S., even though there were political differences over the war in Iraq. I didn’t see people trading in their BMWs or Mercedes or Volkswagens.”
During the Spanish exhibition, 120,000 schoolchildren toured the collection while the Dresden show drew only 33,000 students.
“Before, during and after the exhibition, I talked with teachers, principals and superintendents about the decline,” said Kyle. “I was told a combination of things, that it had to do with educational funding issues, No Child Left Behind testing periods and the fact that some schools were not taking as many field trips due to discipline problems or liability concerns. Our educational materials were of the highest quality, distributed free of charge to every student and teacher statewide in public, private and parochial K-12 schools.”
Early on, Kyle and MCICE board members braced for a deficit and began working on innovative fund-raising projects to cover potential losses, including hosting a Judith Leiber handbag event, a military appreciation event and a one-time Meissen sales event.
“By the time the exhibition ended, we had the deficit down to $1.5 million,” said Kyle. “To resolve that deficit, we are selling some of our assets.”
“The board has been asking $1.7 million for all these pieces, which would cover the total deficit and leave a little bit for closing down,” said Kyle. “However, only two pieces — the bust and the ceiling painting — may be sold to a private entity, such as a private home, hotel, country club, casino or corporate headquarters. The other pieces cannot be privately owned because of an agreement made with the respective countries. We’ve met with several in-state entities to place these artworks in a proper public institution, because it’s our preference for them to stay in Mississippi. We think our universities would be an excellent repository of these artworks.”
There’s no specific deadline to cover the deficit, said Kyle.
“The Dresden officials have been very patient with us — that’s the only debt we owe — and have been partners in the truest sense,” he said. “However, since the commission has determined that our organization will close down, and that no future exhibitions will be organized, we’re trying to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
If a shortfall remains, private donors such as MCICE chairman Bud Robinson and board members Billy Mounger, Kane Ditto, former ambassador to Portugal John Palmer and Charles and Stuart Irby have guaranteed approximately $950,000 of the $1.5 million.
“They’ve already made contributions to sponsor exhibitions, and selling these artworks would keep them from pulling money from their pockets,” said Kyle.
Besides selling other assets owned by MCICE, such as computers, office furniture and decorative art, Kyle is negotiating the sale of exhibition catalogs to a book broker.
“Various things like that are helping drive the half-million deficit down, but the real solution is to sell these artworks,” said Kyle.
The next move
Now that his run with MCICE is drawing to a close, Kyle is mulling his next move. Even though he would like to remain in Mississippi, he’s pursuing opportunities in Europe, Washington, D.C. and New York.
“I’m certainly very proud of the accomplishments we’ve made over these last 10 years in Mississippi,” he said. “It was a pleasure to return to my state after 22 years in Memphis and D.C. to spearhead such a wonderful project. I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be doing anything like this because my education is in music, but I’ve worked on 10 international exhibitions in the last 20 years.
“I’m very saddened to see this end, but the reality is, it costs a lot of money to execute these projects in a world-class manner, even though we’ve tried to be as frugal as possible with our spending. We’ve brought lots of positive publicity to Mississippi from every corner of the world, had a positive economic impact on our state money-wise, and hopefully from an educational and cultural standpoint, too. But the bottom line is you have to pay the piper.
“I’m very grateful to all of the government officials, leaders in the private and education sectors, the media and individuals who have supported and encouraged these projects we’ve brought to the state in the last 10 years.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.