Scottish exhibition injects $1.3m into Ballarat but fails to deliver visitor numbers

A LANDMARK Scottish art exhibition showcased in Ballarat has injected more than $1.3 million back into the city.

For Auld Lang Syne: Images of Scottish Australia from First Fleet to Federation, was showcased at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, from April 11 to July 27, and drew a crowd of about 18,500 people. 

It is the biggest exhibition to be displayed in Ballarat, alongside Capturing Flora: 300 years of Australian Botanical Art in 2012.

While galley director Gordon Morrison dubbed it a success, he said patronage was down from the 20,000 to 25,000 visitors the gallery had expected.

“Looking at the figures, it did take a while for visitation to build up,” Mr Morrison said. 

“It wasn’t until the last month of the exhibition that we were getting the numbers we really had anticipated.”

Among the visitors were returning art enthusiasts, some of whom had ventured to the gallery to see the exhibition five times.

“If you stop looking at it from a quantitative perspective and start looking at if from a qualitative way, I could very confidently say that 99 per cent of people who came to see the show were enormously impressed by it,” he said.

“If we look at the way people appreciated and responded to the exhibition, it was a rip-roaring success.”

For Auld Lang Syne marked the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, one of the most renowned battles in Scottish history.

It was a major victory for Scotland, establishing its freedom from English domination.

Mr Morrison said a high number of Scottish descendants and relatives of people depicted in the exhibition visited the showcase. 

“They were able to come face to face with their ancestors, which was a very emotional and powerful experience,” Mr Morrison said. 

“The interactions between Scottish people and indigenous people varied from being very benign to being pretty dreadful in others and we didn’t shy away from that.”

The gallery funded more than $38,000 into the exhibition with the rest covered by grants. 

It is estimated the exhibition contributed up to $1.35 million into the city’s economy  through day visitors and overnight stays.

The power of regional art galleries as a major driver of economic benefit has been widely reported.

In 2012, a three-month exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery, entitled Grace Kelly: Style Icon, almost doubled economic forecasts after it was attended by more than 100,000 people and injected $17 million into Bendigo’s economy. 

Bendigo Art Gallery director Karen Quinlan said in her experience, the success of regional art galleries remained reliant on a holistic community approach, where the culture of art was supported and celebrated.

She said the most successful exhibitions were those where there was a groundswell of interest in the content showcased.


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