VAN GOGH PAINTS L.A. ECONOMY ROSY.
Vincent van Gogh, the peerless Dutch painter who died impoverished and obscure, brought a windfall of lucre to Los Angeles, officials said Thursday.
``Van Gogh's Van Goghs,'' the blockbuster exhibit that ran earlier this year at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, pumped $121 million into the county's economy, according to a just-released study prepared for LACMA by an independent marketing research firm. The figure could be a record for any U.S. museum exhibit whose economic impact has been studied.
During its Jan. 17-May 16 run, the exhibit of 70 paintings on loan from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam drew 821,000 visitors, the second highest number for a show in LACMA history, and generated millions of dollars in spending for restaurant meals, hotel rooms, gasoline, sales taxes, hotel taxes and scores of souvenirs, ranging from refrigerator magnets at $3.50 each to a pair of street banners for $225.
``Van Gogh's Van Goghs'' also generated 2,872 temporary jobs, according to the study.
The best-attended LACMA exhibit was ``The Treasures of Tutankhamen,'' which drew 1.2 million people from February through June 1978. No economic-impact study was performed on that show. The economic analysis of the Van Gogh exhibit was the first of its type for LACMA.
``We are gratified that we can produce a return on this public investment that benefits our entire community,'' said Andrea Rich, president and chief executive officer of LACMA, at a Thursday presentation of the study. ``The museum and its art are both good for the soul and good for the pocketbook.''
About $15 million of LACMA's $48 million operating budget for fiscal year 1998-99 came from county government funds. Most of the museum operating funds came from membership subscriptions and private donations.
While LACMA officials believe that the $121 million figure is a record of its type, they stressed the difficulty of comparing shows of differing duration of works by artists of varying popularity in distant metropolitan areas. A retrospective on the Impressionist master Cezanne at the Philadelphia Museum of Art generated a reported $86.5 million in 1996, then believed to be a record.
The Van Gogh analysis was conducted by Morey and Associates of Jackson, Wyo., whose clients include aquariums and science museums in several U.S. cities.
It was based on interviews of 346 exhibit-goers who provided information about their spending and their economic and demographic characteristics. For purposes of before-and-after economic comparisons, interviews also were conducted last year with 294 LACMA patrons. The sampling error is around 5 percent.
LACMA supplied information about the museum's revenue, cost structure, employment, payroll and attendance. Additional data came from the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau, whose cultural tourism department heavily promoted the exhibit with area hotels and restaurants.
Michael E. Morey, president of Morey and Associates, said the firm based its economic assessment only on spending by visitors from outside Los Angeles County, who accounted for 55 percent of those who saw ``Van Gogh's Van Goghs'' in Los Angeles. Morey said dollars spent by Los Angeles County residents were excluded on the assumption the money would have been spent within the county, anyway.
Mounting the show, which was sponsored by Washington Mutual Bank, cost $10.6 million. Except for $5.5 million in fees to the Amsterdam museum, this spending was a boost to the Los Angeles County economy, Morey said.
Including audiences for ``Van Gogh's Van Goghs,'' total admissions for LACMA in the fiscal year that ended June 30 was 1.33 million, compared with 554,021 the previous year.
Museum membership also increased from 64,000 in July 1998 to 118,000 now, largely because of ``Van Gogh's Van Goghs'' and another popular exhibition, ``Picasso: Masterworks from the Museum of Modern Art,'' which ran from September 1998 to January 1999.
LACMA officials acknowledged that even they were surprised by the size of the crowds and the amount of time visitors spent looking at the Van Gogh paintings.
``We found that people would get all the way to the end, and they'd go back and decide to see it a second time,'' said Keith McKeown, LACMA assistant vice president of communications and marketing.
``I think we learned lots of lessons from this,'' McKeown said.
Presumably, some of those lessons will be applied to LACMA's upcoming potential major hit, ``Pompeii: Life In a Roman Town,'' which will open Oct. 17 and run through Jan. 9, 2000.