Ellen C. Caldwell, Olympic Art: Mega Events and the Museum, JSTOR Daily, 1 August 2016
With the Olympics starting in Rio there are ample opportunities for Brazil to appeal to the influx of tourists coming for the games. “Mega events” like the Olympics play a unique role in bringing tourists en masse to a country for a concentrated amount of time. And as visitors begin inundating the city, museums are attempting to harness their business.
In 1999, just before Sydney hosted the 2000 Olympics, the Powerhouse Museum and National Maritime Museum partnered together to study the impact of “mega events” on museums. Carol Scott documented this case study, examining the two museums’ visitors before, during, and after the Olympics in order to document the factors that contributed to successful, increased museum attendance.
Scott defines “mega events” as events that “have a global focus and occur at regular intervals of two to four years.” Scott’s study focused on three questions: first, did the “mega event” have a “positive or negative impact upon museum attendance”? Next, what factors, programming, or media impacted attendance? And finally, did visitor patterns change after the Olympic events ended? In other words, did the games impact museum attendance after the games came and went?
Interestingly, the results proved some common perceptions wrong. For instance, “the study found that there is a widely held perception that visitors to mega sporting events differ so markedly from visitors to museums and art galleries, in terms of their profile, that it would be difficult to attract them no matter what one did.” But the results of the study suggested the opposite. Scott noted “it would seem that there is definitely a cohort of visitors to mega sporting events who also participate in cultural activities and whose interest can be attracted irrespective of the attention that the mega event commands.”
Such visitors ended up being the key to both museums’ successful increase in visitors during and after the Olympics.
The museums involved in the study found that hosting specific exhibits related to the Olympic games themselves (with the word “Olympics” in the exhibition title even) and/or related to the history around the location increased their number of visitors. The Powerhouse Museum exhibited 100 Years of the Olympic Games: Treasures of Ancient Greece, for instance, and did remarkably well with 74% of viewers citing the specific exhibition as their motivating factor. They experienced a 24% increase in visitors when compared with traffic during the same period during the year prior. Even more importantly, both museums also saw an increase in visitors following the Olympics.