Bodies the Exhibition in Cincinnati not doing as well as expected?

From Cincinnati Enquirer: ‘Bodies’ breaks record

Or does it?

Morris Tsai, a Taiwanese-American and a Bodies protester since the show opened, says the attendance figures are misleading, pointing out that the Vatican drew its 186,000 in 120 days and it has taken 141 days for Bodies, so it’s not a record-setter. “Clearly, Bodies’ attendance is trailing the Vatican. It took three weeks longer to match the Vatican.”

Yes, I did the research on this last night and am quoted in this article.  So, now I am quoting myself!  In any case, the Cincinnati Museum Center would have you believe that this exhibit is an overwhelming success, but a closer look at the numbers shows the possibility that this show is not doing as well they had hoped.

With unprecedented advertising constantly on tv, billboards, buses, and newspapers, this exhibit has drawn people much more slowly than the Vatican exhibit, Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes.

Compare the two:
Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes- 186,000
visitors- reached this number in 120 days.
December 20, 2003- April 18, 2004

Bodies the Exhibition- 186,000 visitors.  Reached this number in 140 days.
February 1, 2008- June 19, 2008

The article also provides with one more bit of information:

The Bodies controversy got the show off to a roaring start – its first month attracted 53,000 visitors, compared to 27,000 for the Vatican

So, if Bodies the Exhibition drew 53,000 in the first month, the attendance since then has dropped tremendously in recent months.

It’s clear from all their statements before the show got here, that the Cincinnati Museum Center expected Bodies the Exhibition to be the blockbuster that ends all blockbusters.  While it’s hard to classify a show that has reached 186,000 people as a failure, I believe that the show is under-performing their expectations by reaching this record, 3 weeks slower than their previous biggest show.  

The slowing pace does not bode well for this exhibit for the rest of its run, especially with the competition from other summer activities, rising fuel costs, and the slowing economy.  The continuing news of the ethical problems of this exhibit may also finally be gaining some traction.  Earlier this year, Bodies the Exhibition in Farmingham, MA closed a month early because of low attendance.
Cincinnati Museum Center CEO McDonald states that they are making money on the exhibit, but we won’t know if this is true as the Cincinnati Museum Center does not divulge their finances or marketing budget even though they are partly financed by the public through taxes.  This is an extremely costly exhibit for the Cincinnati Museum Center.  They admit that much of the money will be going directly to pay Premier Exhibitions.  With the show costs, the carpet bombing of Cincinnati with its advertising, and declining attendance, is it possible that this exhibit doesn’t end up profitable?

Milwaukee’s Body Worlds 1 show did 338,500 in nearly the same time frame.  From January 1, 2008 through June 1, 2008 (152 days).  That’s nearly twice the rate of the Bodies the Exhibition here at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  Body Worlds 1 is the original exhibition that Bodies the Exhibition knocked off.  The main difference is that Body Worlds 1 claims to use donor bodies, though there is some controversy swirling that exhibit too.  But, could using donated bodies with consent bodies make that big of a difference?  It seems like it may be so.

One quote that I noticed in McDonald’s statements in the articles was this:

I can tell you we’re working on bringing one in now that will be bigger than Bodies, but that’s all I can say for the time being.

I’ve spent some time looking for traveling exhibits that would be bigger than Bodies, and so far all I have found is Body Worlds.  Could the Cincinnati Museum Center turn around and bring Body Worlds here next year after all this controversy?  It seems unbelievable to me, but I haven’t seen any other exhibits that are bigger.

UPDATE 2: It’s not the first time the Cincinnati Museum Center has missed projections for a show.

“Real Pirates,” June 20, 2007-Jan. 6, 2008 (189 days), drew 105,900

The exhibit was developed by John Norman, who set a Museum Center attendance record by drawing 185,000 people to “Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes,” an exhibit of art and historical objects collected over centuries by the Roman Catholic church. Norman said today that he thinks the pirate exhibit will draw bigger crowds than the Vatican show.

“We wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t anticipate it doing at least 150,000,” said Norman, president and CEO of a Cleveland-area company, Arts & Exhibition International. “I’m very comfortable debuting it here.”

So, Real Pirates ended up drawing only 2/3 of their expectations.

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  • Reply cinplify.com June 20, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Bodies the Exhibition in Cincinnati not doing as well as expected?

    Is Bodies the Exhibition meeting the Cincinnati Museum Center’s lofty expectations? Slowing attendance may speak otherwise.

  • Reply Anonymous July 2, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Some good may yet come out of the Bodies Exhibition
    All this debate about attendance records and profits miss the point. The honest debate is how did these Chinese bodies show up in Cincinnati without proper documents. As such is it morally good to show them when it is clear that they have not given informed consent to be processed and displayed this way
    In real life, money does help the world go around. So if the Museum Center, our beloved Cincinnati icon, does declare a profit from the Bodies Exhition, I hope they will also declare donation to a deserving Chinese cause. Even non-profits deserve financial success and if there is surplus money, a non-profit should be charitable. Given the recent earhquake in Szechuan, I hope that the Board and management of the Museum Center will rise to the occasion of giving back some of the bodies money to the orphans who have lost their father and/or mother and the parents who have lost, most likely their only son or daughter in the recent earthquake.
    So, it is not too late to do some good from this whole macabre episode.
    Charleston Wang

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