Revenue, relevance and reflecting community: Blockbusters at the Art Galley of NSW
Museum & Society
Museums are judged not solely on the basis of their exhibition quality and collection care but, within a corporate model, they are also judged on quantitative measures such as audience numbers and, in turn, their financial viability. Programming has, therefore, become a major focus of forward planning and the basis for funding development. Blockbuster exhibitions, strategically placed throughout annual programs, have been a common way to increase audience numbers and sustain support. In more
... support. In more recent times, the blockbuster model has developed to address more complex measures of success beyond their quantifiable benefits. In addition to the aim of increasing visitor numbers, the blockbuster exhibition and its associated public and education programs, have been effectively utilized as a means of broadening and diversifying audiences. Such efforts help museums to meet expectations, often set by governments, to address and reflect the diverse demographic communities within which they are situated and to whom they serve.The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Australia provides one such example of a museum that is working creatively within the blockbuster model in order to present exhibitions that build on their collection strengths and existing programs, attract large audiences and engage diverse audiences by focusing on community building. This paper uses the AGNSW blockbuster exhibition The First Emperor: China's Entombed Warriors, to examine the role of this format in contemporary museums more broadly. We use this exhibition as a frame by which to analyse how the Gallery has modified the blockbuster model, and indeed built on it, in order to target geographically and culturally diverse audiences. We argue that this has been effectively achieved as a result of the Gallery building blockbusters around their curatorial and collection strengths, by working with external organizations and community groups and by offering a range of activities and opportunities for engagement both within the museum and outside of its boundaries. This exhibition proves that when blockbusters are used creatively to support museum wide efforts to engage culturally and linguistically diverse audiences they can achieve success that is both quantitative and qualitative.