The Mayborn Museum’s “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” is sailing on to its next destination, with two days left in the blockbuster show that is leaving organizers with smiles.
The exhibit, which tells the story of the 1912 sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic through 150 items recovered from the sea floor, drew some 50,000 visitors and boosted overall museum attendance during its seven-month run, the Mayborn’s longest time to host a national touring exhibit.
That increase and the expanded attention to the museum during the “Titanic’s” stay rewarded the extra expense, logistics and manpower needed for the show, museum Director Charlie Walter said.
“It was an outstanding experience for us and for our visitors,” Walter said. “You do something like this every three to five years because it’s hard on your institution and staff, but it shows the community what you can do.”
Museum spokesperson Rebecca Nall said anyone wanting a last-minute visit Saturday or Sunday should buy tickets online in advance or come early. The exhibit’s last entry time is 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Mayborn administrators considered “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” the 14-year-old museum’s first true blockbuster show in terms of scale and audience appeal. Attendance seemed to prove that true, amplifying the peaks of the museum’s usual attendance patterns and bringing in visitors from across the state and nation. Nall, like other Mayborn staffers, filled in for Baylor student workers during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, during which she fielded calls from incoming visitors from Dallas, Austin and Central Texas.
“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” brought some firsts for museum operation, including online ticketing, timed entry tickets, revamping of the museum’s foyer space to accommodate an admissions queue, extra staffing to handle crowds and designation of some McLane Stadium parking for overflow when the Mayborn’s lots were filled. All but the overflow parking were needed, Walter said.
“I’m very proud of the staff and the planning that was done,” he said.
The increased visibility the “Titanic” show gave the Mayborn also may have led to a bump in giving that benefited the museum’s upcoming Backyard Ecology Hall, a $1.2 million renovation to part of the Discovery Center expected to open in September.
The big bump in museum attendance resulted in a slight bump in revenue. Much of the difference between the Titanic ticket price and that for regular museum admission went to the exhibitor, Premier Exhibitions, with the Mayborn enjoying the uptick in regular museum admissions.
Hosting “Titanic” meant some increased expenses for the Mayborn, including about $30,000 for additional special lighting and another $30,000 in shipping costs to return the exhibit back to its Atlanta storehouse.
Normally, the next museum or venue on an exhibition’s tour picks up the shipping costs from its previous location, but a Premier Exhibitions bankruptcy case has put “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” tour temporarily on hold until some legal issues are resolved, saddling the Mayborn with both sets of shipping expenses.
“(Financially) it was pretty much a wash,” Walter said.
The Mayborn’s “Titanic” experience will prove valuable in other ways, he said. There is the experience gained to stage future big exhibits, a higher visibility and prestige and the memories that museum visitors take away.
Nall said many of those leaving the “Titanic” exhibit during its run commented on how its account of the luxury liner’s tragic sinking that killed more than 1,000 passengers, had touched them emotionally.
With “Titanic” sailing away, the museum’s next blockbuster on the horizon will be dinosaurs, really big dinosaurs in the American Museum of Natural History’s touring exhibit on the world’s largest dinosaurs, penciled in for the summer of 2021.
Later this month, the Mayborn will open a new exhibit on a much smaller scale and for a much, physically anyway, smaller audience: a kid-friendly “Very Eric Carle” based on the children’s books by Eric Carle.
That variety in exhibits and the experience planned for audiences who visit them point to a museum’s mission, Walter believes.
“I think that’s what museums are for: To experience the world on a deeper level,” he said.