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Courting the Cultural Tourist

Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh knows its place in the effort to draw cultural tourists to Pittsburgh: out in front. 

At The Andy Warhol Museum, there’s a well-worn guest book in the entrance gallery where visitors can jot down their impressions.  Recently, one visitor wrote, “We had a really nice time with Andy’s art and now it is hard to leave.”  She added, “I’m glad that I came ‘just’ from Slovakia!”  Preceding pages of the book are dotted with enthusiastic comments from other visitors who came from South Africa, Australia, and other far-flung regions of the world.

These visitors are “cultural tourists”—those who travel primarily to see arts events or cultural sites—and what they find in Pittsburgh is a diverse and often surprising blend of the old and the new, the contemporary and the traditional.  And at the center of that cultural treasure chest are the four distinctive museums that make up Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. 

From the day it opened, The Andy Warhol Museum has been a tourist attraction.  Today, a full 34% of The Warhol’s visitors come from outside Pennsylvania, with six percent of those coming from other countries.  “The name ‘Andy Warhol’ is known the world over,” says Tinsy Lipchak, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Office of Cultural Tourism.  “That kind of name recognition is what cultural tourists are interested in.” 

Adding to that built-in recognition is the international reputation The Warhol is gaining by featuring brave, edgy exhibitions such as Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, as well as by mounting traveling exhibitions that have already reached nearly three million people worldwide. 

But before there was Andy Warhol, there was Andrew Carnegie. “The name ‘Carnegie’ also is internationally known,” adds Lipchak.  We’ve found that people have an expectation that they’ll see great exhibitions and world-class collections—cultural attractions of the highest quality— if the name Carnegie is attached to them.” [POSSIBLE PULL QUOTE.]


Building Blockbusters

Lipchak adds that that fact that Carnegie Museums is a collection of four distinctive museums makes it “always part of the story and part of the package” when her office is courting cultural tourists.  Actually, Carnegie Museums has been an important part of the Office of Cultural Tourism’s story since it was founded in 1998.  President Ellsworth Brown, then chairman of the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau, served on an advisory committee to establish the new office, and museum directors and marketing and group sales personnel have been working closely with the Office of Cultural Tourism ever since.

According to Brown, attracting more tourists fits into the museums’ vision of contributing to the advancement of the region.  “When tourists go back home, they spread the word about what Pittsburgh has to offer,” he says  “This, in turn, helps attract new residents, employers, and investors to the region.”

Early initiatives by the Office of Cultural Tourism capitalized on major exhibitions at Carnegie Museum of Art, including the triennial Carnegie International and shows such as Aluminum by Design: From Jewelry to Jets.  “Cultural tourists are drawn to ‘blockbuster’ events,” says Lipchak.  “The International and Aluminum were the kinds of events we could build tours and packages around.”

That “blockbuster” strategy paid off in full in 2001, when Carnegie Museum of Art’s Light! The Industrial Age, 1750-1900: Art & Science, Technology & Society became the centerpiece of a campaign by the Office of Cultural Tourism called “Pittsburgh Shines!”  The campaign promoted the exhibition and related cultural events to prospective tourists from the tri-state region.  An estimated 23,000 regional visitors came to Pittsburgh to see Light! and, according to the Office of Cultural Tourism, they generated $2.5 million in revenue for the city.

Carnegie Museums is again playing a central role in the Office of Cultural Tourism’s current initiative, “Kidsburgh.” The promotion includes a number of family-oriented packages that prominently feature the dinosaur exhibits at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the latest exhibition at Carnegie Science Center, Busytown, based on the work of children’s author Richard Scarry. 

Creating first-day attractions

Like The Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History and Carnegie Science Center have proven track records for attracting tourists and are poised to attract even more in the future.  Currently, about 26 percent of the Science Center’s visitors—more than 175,000 people—are tourists.  The Science Center’s new UPMC SportsWorks exhibition—the world’s largest science and sports exhibition in the world—is earning a reputation among sports enthusiasts.  In addition, the Science Center’s many traveling exhibitions and Henry Buhl Jr. Planetarium shows are drawing international attention. 

When the Science Center’s expanded facility, which is being designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, opens in 2008, it will give the city of Pittsburgh an exciting new  architectural icon that defines its skyline in the minds of tourists.  “Carnegie Science Center will be a ‘signature building’ that brings attention to Pittsburgh the way the opera house in Sydney, Australia, or the new Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Spain, have done for those cities,” says Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Frank Lucchino, who chairs the Science Center board.  In fact, the project already has attracted tourists—from Bilbao.  This June, more than 40 people from Bilbao visited the Science Center for an exhibition and conference comparing the Science Center’s expansion and other redevelopment plans in Pittsburgh with similar efforts in their city.

Meanwhile, at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, plans to use the museum’s world-class fossil collections to create the world’s premier dinosaur exhibits already have city leaders thinking about the impact that such a project could have on tourism. In the April 16, 2001, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the editors wrote:  “For a city that has long debated what can make a decent ‘first-day attraction,’ this expansion may provide an answer.  Andrew Carnegie would be proud.”  The redesign will place the Museum of Natural History’s much-vaunted collection of actual dinosaur fossils “in their world,” alongside the fossils of other species who lived at the same time.  “We expect to draw dinosaur enthusiasts from around the world,” says museum director Bill DeWalt.

To further clinch Pittsburgh’s reputation as the dinosaur capital of the world, the Museum of Natural History is planning “DINO-mite Days” for the summer of 2003.  The project will place about 100 large dinosaurs, all distinctively painted by different artists, on street corners throughout the city.  The museum is developing plans with the Office of Cultural Tourism to promote “DINO-mite Days” to tourists.

The Jewel in the Crown

In addition to ongoing collaborations with the Office of Cultural Tourism, Carnegie Museums continues to court tourists by advertising in travel guides for the region and through the efforts of its Group Sales Department, which cultivates visits by groups that include motor coach tours from neighboring counties and states.  For example, the Group Sales Department arranged for 566 groups—some as large as 200 people and from as far away as England and France—to tour the Museum of Art’s Light! exhibition.  Last year, the Group Sales Department reported a nine percent increase in visits by tour groups.

Overall, of the more than 1.67 million people served by Carnegie Museums last year, about 30% were tourists.  And many are discovering Pittsburgh through the musings of travel reporters and art critics who themselves have been drawn here by the world-class exhibitions and collections at Carnegie Museums. 

In a front-page story that appeared in the April 15, 2001, edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram, reporter Gaile Robinson described Pittsburgh as a “steel magnolia” that is “blooming anew by producing museums as it once did steel.”  The Hartford Courant and the Salt Lake Tribune also weighed in with travel pieces raving about Carnegie Museums in particular and Pittsburgh in general.  Even the British travel agency Travel Telegraph posted an essay on its Web site about Pittsburgh, titled “The Stainless Steel City.” In it, writer Peter Taylor opined, “Pittsburgh boasts museums and galleries that a national capital would be proud of” and described Carnegie Museums as the “jewel in Pittsburgh’s cultural crown.”





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