Ansel Adams exhibit on track to draw over 26000 to Missoula museum

by Joe Nickel. Reprinted with permission from The Missoulian. April 6, 2012

Ansel Adams’ iconic photographs of Western landscapes are recognized the world over. In the course of the past six months, those images have brought unprecedented recognition to the Missoula Art Museum.

When the MAM’s exhibit of 138 prints by the late photographer closes this coming Sunday, it will have set new records in almost every way for the local art museum.

“It really has been a remarkable experience for us,” said Laura Millin, executive director of the MAM. “We feel so fortunate to have been able to host this exhibit, because I think it has served our audience while also serving our own desire to expand our reach and share what this little museum has to offer in a broader sense.”

Beginning with the standing-room-only opening of the exhibit on Oct. 7, the “little museum” on North Pattee Street has seen unprecedented crowds come through the building. While a final tally won’t be known until the show closes this weekend, Millin said the visitor count will easily exceed 26,000 people.

As a point of context, that is more visitors than MAM has hosted in some entire years in the not-so-distant past.

Notably, only half of those visitors have come from the Missoula community; 30 percent came from other areas of Montana, while 20 percent came from out of state.

“A majority of those out-of-state visitors said that they came specifically to see the exhibit,” said Millin. “It’s not uncommon to have a lot of out-of-state visitors in the summertime, but that is a remarkable number considering that this exhibit ran through the winter.”

It helped that the MAM offered considerably more programming than usual related to the exhibit, including lectures, films and more than 120 docent-led tours. More than 6,000 people attended those special events alone, and 1,200 area fifth-graders visited the exhibit as part of the annual Fifth Grade Art Experience.

Millin said she believes the success of the exhibit will resonate in the building for some time to come.

“This exhibit really sent a message of inclusiveness and definitely broadens our appeal to a wider audience,” she said, noting that 48 percent of visitors to the Ansel Adams exhibit were first-timers to MAM. “This showed a lot of people who hadn’t ever bothered to find out that we are a very professional, accredited museum that can handle a major show like this. So it’ll have a long-term positive impact I believe on the institution.

“All in all, it has been incredibly good for MAM and for Missoula.”

Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358, jnickell@missoulian.com or on NickellBag.com.