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March 13, 2017

PMA attendance up as 'reimagining' bears fruit

Courtesy / Portland Museum of Art
Courtesy / Portland Museum of Art
The Portland Museum of Art had 13,856 visitors in February, the highest February on record since 2009.

The Portland Museum of Art's recent $2.7 million revamp and rebranding is already paying off as reflected in February attendance figures.

According to the museum, there were 13,856 visitors in February, the highest February on record since 2009. During vacation week alone, there were more than 3,400 visitors, and 2,700 came for the "Lights Across Congress" reopening after a four-week closure.

The Feb. 3 celebration, featuring a multidimensional projection on the side of the museum's red brick facade, followed a month of upgrades, the latest chapter in a multi-year project known as "Your Museum, Reimagined."

The effort included digitizing 18,000 works in the permanent collection, installing 20% more art in the galleries along with touchscreens, and changing how works are exhibited by broader concepts rather than by origin or era. There is also a new art-study room where any member of the public can schedule a private viewing of anything not on display.

The museum also set out to lure people to all four of its buildings, depicted as bright red icons in new marketing and promotional materials.

"One of the things we really wanted to do on the brand side and on the marketing side is reintroduce the museum to people," Graeme Kennedy, the museum's director of marketing and public relations, told Mainebiz.

Besides bringing in tourists from out of state, the six-person marketing and communications team sought to reach out to locals.

"You have a lot of Mainers who've been here for a long time who have come to really love the museum or to not really think about it too much," he said. "One of the things we really wanted to do on the brand side and on the marketing side is to reintroduce the museum to people."

The marketing effort included working with the Maine Office of Tourism over the past year to promote the PMA on the must-see list. "What we've really tried to do is push the PMA on that bucket list of things to do," said Kennedy.

As it does for all exhibitions, the museum got the word out about the recent changes to different target groups via various media, from print to podcasts and videos.

Unusually for a museum, a lot of the multimedia work — along with a quarterly magazine — is produced in-house by a marketing and communications team that's almost like an independent agency.

Though one would think the videos would be meant for social media-addicted millennials, it turns out the largest percentage of PMA Facebook followers are women in their 60s.

"It's not an age split the way we thought it would be, it's really like a lifestyle split," said Kennedy. "Our audience is an NPR audience."

The reimagining is due to continue this summer when the sculpture garden on High Street will be opened to the public, thanks to a donation from David E. Shaw, managing partner of Black Point Group in Portland, and his foundation.

"By sharing his love of sculpture and commitment to Maine, David has brought art and public access to our community through a vibrant sculpture park in the heart of Portland," PMA Director Mark Bessire said in an announcement last August.

Kennedy declined to say whether the PMA would have an interest in taking over the nearby Children's Museum, which reportedly plans to move to Thompson's Point.

"The PMA is aware of the Children's Museum's plans to relocate, and commends everyone involved in the revitalization of Thompson's Point, one of Portland's most unique areas," he said.

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