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Art museum attendance statistics are never far from the headlines. A more forensic look below ranks museums by the number of visitors relative to their Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). This allows for a comparison based not on total attendance alone, but on performance relative to the available audience. The results are skewed somewhat, since museums in the largest metropolitan areas have mass tourism, which benefits their ranking.  Taking that factor into consideration, in a recent study the best attended art museum relative to its potential audience was the Toledo Museum of Art:

Museums and Society

Published: January 31, 2011

To the Editor:

For decades, American cultural leaders have looked to Europe with admiration for government support of the arts. But as reported in “ ‘This Space for Rent’: In Europe, Arts Now Must Woo Commerce” (Arts pages, Jan. 24), European authorities have skipped past reforming their tax codes to encourage private patronage as the United States does, and have gone straight to emulating commercial enterprises. The Dutch government has even announced its intention to index public support to museum attendance.

It’s essential to measure the contribution a museum makes to society — and easiest to count heads. Art museums in the United States have accordingly turned to populist fare to build attendance. But the vast majority of museum expense goes not to shows but toward caring for collections and engaging visitors — which is why museums can’t charge their way to solvency.

The contribution they make rests on being stewards of our shared creative past and on offering one of the last noncommercial harbors of experiences and ideas.

The “blockbuster” was the name invented for a bomb intended to devastate targets. Let’s not let blockbusters reduce our treasure houses to multiplexes with adjoining but neglected permanent collections.

Maxwell L. Anderson
Indianapolis, Jan. 27, 2011



Essays on the burgeoning commercialization of the art world.

Publications on the contest for ownership of cultural heritage.

Essays on the awakening of institutional transparency through social media.

    Maxwell L. Anderson, Editor        
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