Updated: February 8, 2013 10:20PM
Attendance at the DuSable Museum of African American History fell 36 percent in 2012 over the previous year, the largest drop of any major museum in Chicago last year, recently released data shows.
A banner year in 2011 — when the museum was a lecture site for Chicago Ideas Week and a stop on the national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Table of Brotherhood” discussion tour — made it difficult for 2012 attendance to match the prior year, said Carol L. Adams, the museum’s president and chief executive officer.
And last fall’s Chicago Public Schools teachers’ strike hurt attendance at the museum in Washington Park on Chicago’s South Side.
“Our primary visitors are schools. So during the strike the children, the staff were off – and when they returned they needed to spend more time in the classroom, so we didn’t get them then,” Adams said.
In addition, the museum didn’t hold its annual festival tied to the Bud Billiken parade, the country’s largest and oldest African American parade, museum spokesman Raymond Ward said.
In 2012, museum attendance was at 102,603, down 58,744 from 2011 when the museum logged 161,347 visitors, according to museum’s own data.
In 2010 attendance was 134,343 and in 2009, it was 157,800, according to records provided by Museums in the Park and Museums Work for Chicago, the umbrella organizations that tally attendance records for more than a dozen museums and zoos in the Chicago area.
When the annual museum attendance report, issued by a consortium of the city’s largest museum and zoos, came out late last month, it showed DuSable’s attendance had plummeted below the 100,000 mark to 97,603.
But after the Sun-Times called the museum to inquire about the attendance numbers, Ward, the museum spokesman said the numbers “aren’t right.” On Friday, he said DuSable staff re-examined the visitor numbers the museum turns over monthly to Museums in the Park, a coalition of museums that sit on Chicago Park District property.
Museum staff found they had failed to turn over crowd numbers for a few jazz and blues festivals as well as “Movies in the Park” which were on the front lawn of the museum, Ward said.
So long as events are on the grounds, and there is access to the museum building, that counts as attendance at the museum, said Rebecca Schejbal, with Museums in the Park, a consortium of museums that sit on park district land.
Including those outdoor events, the total attendance at DuSable in 2012 was 102,603 or 5,000 more visitors than initially thought, Ward said. Schejbal confirmed the numbers were updated.
Officials said the drop in admissions didn’t greatly affect the museum’s finances as admission revenues represent a small slice of the $3 million operating budget.
Right now, the museum is quite busy, Adams, DuSable’s president said.
From Martin Luther King Jr. Day through February, which is African-American history month, the museum sees a spike in visitors.
The much-anticipated exhibit “Geoffrey & Carmen: A Memoir in Four Movements” — which examines the artistic talents of the husband-and-wife team, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade — opens this weekend and will likely spur more traffic in the museum, too.
“We’re always looking at new and different programming to bring even more people in to our museum,” Adams said.
In late January, annual attendance numbers showed visits were up overall by roughly 4 percent. But in addition to DuSable, several museums saw year-over-year attendance fall.
The Field Museum’s attendance was down almost 3 percent over 2011 with 1.25 million visitors in 2012. The Museum of Contemporary Art, with 232,637 visitors last year was down about 7 percent from the previous year.
The National Museum of Mexican Art was off about 6,000 visitors from the previous year with 150,318 visitors.