Construction couldn’t keep them away: The Walker Art Center announced Tuesday that income from exhibitions more than doubled during the fiscal year that ended June 30, despite surrounding road and renovation work.
Thanks partly to a pair of popular shows, “Hippie Modernism” and “International Pop,” the Walker’s exhibition income reached $1.6 million — compared with $770,000 in 2015 — helping balance the center’s $21.9 million annual budget.
“We had anticipated that our attendance would be down,” said Olga Viso, the Walker’s executive director. “But we actually broke records with our gallery attendance. … I think our efforts that we have a strong robust program during construction really paid off.”
About 161,000 people visited the Walker’s galleries in fiscal year 2016. That’s not far off 2015, when gallery attendance was 163,000.
But overall attendance, which counts folks who stop by the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, was down as a result of the renovation of that space, which is scheduled to reopen next June after being closed for two years. Membership, too, fell slightly to 6,826, a drop of about 4 percent.
Fiscal year 2016 was “a big planning year,” Viso said by phone. Those plans began going live in recent weeks, as the Walker celebrated the opening of its new entrance, a $23.3 million project meant to knit the center with the Sculpture Garden across the street. When it reopens in June, the Sculpture Garden will boast 19 new sculptures, 10 of them new pieces and commissions — including a giant, ultramarine blue rooster by German artist Katharina Fritsch.
“It’s the culmination of lots of planning to get to this moment,” Viso said.
The star shows, “Hippie Modernism” and “International Pop,” both of which revisited the 1960s, attracted about 70,000 and 75,000 visitors respectively, Viso said.
“They’re shows that I think really struck a chord with audiences across generations,” she said. Alongside the “Hippie Modernism” show, the Walker put on related films and programs, she said, which “resonated with millennials.”
But the Walker also marketed those shows differently, Viso said, investing in digital and social media and running trailers for the gallery shows at movie theaters.
The shows also added costs to the Walker’s budget. The center spent $5.8 million on exhibitions in fiscal 2016, compared with $4.7 million in 2015. Overall, the center’s budget grew by about 4 percent in fiscal 2016.