Following his death earlier this month, David Bowie's still having an effect – in this case, perhaps unexpectedly, on attendance rates at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Attendance at the museum was down 30 percent last year, largely due to the success of its 2014 exhibition "David Bowie Is." The hugely popular retrospective of Bowie's career brought in some 200,000 visitors during its four-month run and was the museum's most-attended exhibition ever, pushing overall attendance that year to 338,000–a 51-percent increase over 2013.
Despite the drop, MCA attendance in 2015 (238,000) was above that of both 2013 and 2012.
"When we went into this, we had a business model that basically broke down to how many people we needed to get into the door and pay $25 to make this work," MCA chief curator Michael Darling told the Chicago Tribune just before the show closed in January 2015. "And though that model was always pretty conservative, this has been something else entirely. We've outpaced every expectation we had."
Most other Chicago museums fared better, according to 2015 attendance data compiled by Museums in the Park, the city's elite collective of 15 Chicago museums and zoos. Those which saw the most growth include the Field Museum, up 13 percent to 1.39 million visitors; the National Museum of Mexican Art, up 21 percent to 159,000; and the Adler Planetarium, with a 22 percent increase to 550,000 visitors.
Chicago advertising vet Marc Lapides, who was hired as the Adler's vice president of business and market development in 2014, said Adler's growth is largely due to restructuring via the planetarium's new CEO Michelle Larson, in addition to the success of new advertising campaigns like "Space is Freaking Awesome."
"It was not expected at all, the goal was 500,000," said Lapides of the museum's attendance jump. "We blew through the goal before Dec. 1., we're firing on all cylinders here."
Other Chicago museums that saw a decrease in attendance were the DuSable Museum, which was down 15 percent with just over 100,000 attendees through the door; and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts, the free Humboldt Park museum which became a member of Museums in the Park in 2012 and which saw some 16,000 attendees last year.
Revisit our look inside the MCA exhibition "David Bowie Is"