The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts created a $145 million economic juggernaut when it reopened in 2010 after an extensive expansion project.
Between fiscal year 2008, the last full year before the museum closed for the final stages of construction, and fiscal year 2014, five years after it reopened, VMFA’s total economic impact around the state has more than doubled, from $59.5 million in spending in 2008 to $145.1 million in 2014.
The figures come from an economic impact analysis prepared for the museum by Chmura Economics & Analytics and released Tuesday.
The number of jobs supported by the museum around the state has nearly tripled, from 734 in 2008 to 1,912 in 2014, representing a 161 percent increase.
In Richmond during the same time period, the total economic impact has grown from $32.3 million to $52.8 million in spending and from 407 to 805 in the number of jobs the spending supports.
The economic increase is powered by even larger gains in annual attendance, membership, exhibitions and acquisitions.
Attendance at the museum complex in Richmond soared from 118,470 in 2008 to 464,534 in 2014 (a 292 percent increase); statewide program attendance from 205,987 to 616,817 (199 percent); membership from 8,353 to 34,628 (315 percent); membership income from $1.4 million to $4 million (178 percent); exhibitions from one a year to four or five a year (400 percent) and acquisitions from 141 in 2008 to 1,080 in 2014 (666 percent).
Alex Nyerges, VMFA director, said he was not surprised by the results.
“We knew our impact was considerable,” he said.
Just as important is the fact that the impact remains at high levels five years after the expansion, he said.
“Many museums, when they undergo expansions, have dramatic rises in attendance, membership and support,” he explained. “Often it’s a swoon, and things return closer to normal. For us, the difference is those dramatic numbers are sustained more than five years later. That is a very important point that not every institution can claim.”
Two factors that have helped those numbers to stay high, he said, are reflected in two of the museum’s slogans:
- “It’s your art” champions the public access that’s free 365 days a year, and
- “We bring the world to Virginia” celebrates the major traveling exhibitions that now have a place big enough to handle them.
“The building made it possible,” Nyerges said. “It provided us the space that we formerly did not have and the amenities. Think about the museum store, Amuse restaurant, Best Café. They have all become destinations in their own right. The Robins sculpture garden, go out any day of the week, especially weekends, and it seems all of Richmond has gathered there.”
The massive increase in acquisitions, most of which are gifts, is also fueled by the expansion, because it doubled the gallery space for the permanent collection, Nyerges said. One example is the post-expansion donation of Frank Raysor’s collection of 10,000 prints, some of which are on display now in “Félix Bracquemond: Impressionist Innovator.”
The direct economic impact of the museum, according to the report, begins with its total operational revenue. In fiscal year 2014, that revenue of $34.8 million included support from the state, donations, earned income (from ticket sales, etc.) and the VMFA Foundation. The museum had 620 employees.
The total economic impact also includes indirect economic activity, such as spending on hotel rooms by museum visitors or spending by museum restaurants on supplies, and induced economic impact such as household income that resulted from the direct and indirect impact.
The calculations are based on models for how each industry affects other industries, said Xiaobind Shuai, senior economist at Chmura.
From a tourism perspective, “VMFA helps us set the Richmond region apart as a major East Coast cultural destination,” said Jennifer Hendren, vice president of marketing for Richmond Region Tourism.
“On top of that, their wonderful event space, noteworthy dining and cocktails at Amuse, and the fact they’re open 365 days a year make them the perfect tourism partner.”
To Jack Berry, president of Richmond Region Tourism, “the museum’s expansion has paralleled the renaissance of Richmond. It has really put us on the map as a world-class destination.
“It’s absolutely part of the DNA of why we are a cool destination.”