Monday, July 15, 2024

Michelangelo Show Attracts Record Visitation for Muscarelle

An exhibit of works by Michelangelo has attracted record crowds to the Muscarelle Museum of Art. (Photo courtesy of Muscarelle Museum of Art)

An exhibit of works by Michelangelo has brought more visitors to the Muscarelle Museum of Art than any previous show.

About 25,000 paid visitors have seen the show, which closes Sunday. The museum, which is closed Mondays, has welcomed nearly 600 visitors on weekdays and about 1,000 visitors on Saturdays and Sundays since the show opened Feb. 9, according to John Spike, assistant director and chief curator at the Muscarelle.

“I think that the message came across that for many people, there would not be another chance to see so many original Michelangelos all together during their lifetimes,” Spike said. “What is so exciting about it is there are so many people who have never been to the Muscarelle and some people who haven’t attended museums much in their lives.”

The record-breaking show comes less than two years after the museum, located on the campus of The College of William & Mary, set records for attendance at its French Impressionists show. Both shows have introduced the Muscarelle to new audiences.

Since the show opened, 12 reviews have been posted on, many from guests mentioning they had not previously heard of the facility. One reviewer brought a group of 111 homeschoolers to view the exhibit, and wrote, “This museum was not on my radar until the current Michelangelo exhibit. The museum is not your typical small college museum. The layout and exhibits are world class. The staff is fabulous and the director is a master.”

Spike said he has heard stories of hotel desk clerks mentioning the exhibit, sending Colonial Williamsburg visitors up Jamestown Road to visit the Muscarelle. When he recently went to the post office, a clerk mentioned he and his wife were planning a visit. Director Aaron DeGroft is stopped by everyone in the street saying they have seen the show or they are on their way, Spike added.

The buzz positions the museum well among its peers to bring more “blockbuster” shows to Williamsburg, which is seeking to boost its reputation as an arts attraction. The Muscarelle worked with major museums, including the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Toledo Museum of Art, to also mount an exhibit of works by baroque painter Mattia Preti. The show’s success, Spike said, made the museums “glad they participated, and the Muscarelle is more widely known now amongst the whole museum professional community.”

A sketch of Cleopatra surprised historians when they discovered it had another view on the back. The front shows a serene version of the famed seductress.

The Muscarelle staff has long lobbied for an expansion of the facility, which would enable the Muscarelle to not only mount more exhibits, but display pieces from its permanent collection.

An expanded Muscarelle would have to address three pressing space needs: storage, office and classroom space and gallery space for the permanent collection. The storage space for the museum’s permanent collection is at capacity, Spike said. With no space to display its collection, the museum mounts exhibits of its pieces, including an upcoming exhibit of 120 new acquisitions.

The museum’s staff has grown since its inception and it accepts 25 interns, but there isn’t enough work space.

“We are short on desks; we have no meeting room,” Spike said. “When my class meets on Mondays, we set up chairs in the gallery.”

A January 2009 feasbility study proposed the university demolish the existing museum and Phi Beta Kappa Hall and replace them with a $350 million arts complex. The proposed 300,000-square-foot facility would have housed the new art museum and the music, dance, theatre, visual arts and art history departments.

The college has reversed course, however, announcing in September it would be scaling back its plans due to the considerable cost of the project, which would have required state investment and private fundraising.  Instead, the college decided to seek another feasibility study to evaluate whether Phi Beta Kappa Hall, constructed in 1956, could be renovated for academic use. The feasibility study was anticipated to be completed in March, and included in the college’s 2014-2020 Capital Plan.

A review of arts-related needs conducted by the administration revealed the theater and music departments are most in need of upgrades. Their needs have been  prioritized above the needs of dance, art and art history.

Vice President of Administration Anna Martin said the college is committed to realizing the plan defined in the 2009 study, but it will have to be done incrementally. In the meantime, museum staff has received the go-ahead to seek private donations for a future Muscarelle.

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