Milwaukee Public Museum’s Mandela exhibit fell short of visitor targets but still boosted revenue

A gallery dedicated to the years of chaos leading up to the landmark 1994 election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa. (Photo: Round Room Live)

The Milwaukee Public Museum fell short on its in-person attendance goals during its run of a special Nelson Mandela exhibition but the increase in traffic still managed to boost revenues.

The museum had originally set a target of bringing 27,000 visitors into the museum for “Nelson Mandela: The Official Exhibition” with the expectation that it would host in-person school groups. Instead, schools opted to do virtual programming, and MPM offered students virtual tours of the exhibit.

When combining in-person visits and the reach of its virtual programming, however, MPM exceeded the 27,000 goal, Censky reported to MPM board members this week.

The global-touring exhibit, which MPM offered in partnership with America’s Black Holocaust Museum, was on view from April 23-Aug. 1.

While attendance at the museum has been down because of months-long closures and COVID-19 trends, Censky noted that the increased fees associated with the Mandela exhibit and an increase in paid visitors versus member visitors boosted the museum’s revenue this fiscal year, with the museum exceeding projections by $200,000. Tickets for the exhibit cost $22 for adults, compared to the museum’s regular $18 admission.

Recent fundraising efforts have also been “hugely successful,” Censky told board members. MPM raised a total of $252,000, beating its goal of $180,000.

The museum also outpaced its goals around memberships, bringing in roughly $98,000 in revenue from new memberships, compared to its $67,000 goal.

Another success from the Mandela exhibit, Cenksy said, was the opportunity to work with 15 community partners and a 50-person advisory council that helped expand MPM’s reach to other parts of the community, and to engage Black-owned vendors throughout the exhibit’s run.

Censky noted, however, that the low attendance this past year is an unsustainable path for the museum moving forward.

MPM was forced to close its doors in March 2020 with the initial COVID outbreak, briefly reopened in summer 2020 but later closed with the spike in cases during the fall. After remaining closed for three and half months, it reopened in March of this year.

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