Exhibition attendance figures not the sole measure of success

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 April, 2014, 3:17am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 April, 2014, 3:17am

I refer to the article in Lai See regarding the numbers that attended the exhibition of Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus at the Asia Society ("What is art?", April 16).

Howard Winn assumes that the response to a single exhibition provides a measure of the interest in arts and culture in Hong Kong, and even more tenuously the potential audience for events at the West Kowloon Cultural District. This is flawed logic.

The attendance figures for a single film are not indicative of the total audience for movies; nor does the number of customers at a single restaurant necessarily reflect the scale of Hong Kong's appetite for dining out.

But it does indicate something else - the risk of using numbers as the sole measure of success, and the challenges faced when making audience predictions without extensive past data to draw upon. It is worth noting that the Asia Society actually saw a 66 per cent increase in attendance compared to its previous exhibitions.

Drawing on Winn's comparison to a more popular event (taken from North America and over 50 years ago) I think it is safe to assume that if the Asia Society could secure the Mona Lisa - the most famous painting in the world - it too could attract many, many more people. Predicting, in advance, exactly what that number would be is the difficult part.

At West Kowloon, 150,000 people came to see our exhibition of giant inflatables, "Inflation!", while over 20,000 came to see our exhibition "Building M+: The Museum and Architecture Collection" at ArtisTree.

Both are healthy figures but the difference in these numbers also reflects the fact they are quite different events and attract different audiences.

In cities all over the world, attendance at art and cultural events has been increasing. There is no reason to believe that Hong Kong should not see similar growth; unless of course you truly believe that the people of Hong Kong are unique in their antipathy towards art and culture.

We at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority do not take that view, and the attendance at our events, take-up of workshops and classes, and interest from those applying for internships and docent positions provide encouraging numbers we can base that assumption on.

Michael Lynch, chief executive officer, West Kowloon Cultural District