It’s official: the Louvre’s attendance record has been smashed.
The Paris museum attracted a staggering 10.2 million visitors last year, boosted by a Delacroix survey—the most popular special exhibition in its history—and the publicity generated by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who shot the video for “Apeshit” among museum masterpieces.
The attendance figure, which shattered the Louvre’s previous record of 9.7 million visitors, set in 2012, follows two years of relatively low attendance for the world’s most-visited art museum. The 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris kept attendees away in 2016, with only 7.4 million visitors that year—a 15 percent drop from the year prior.
The museum’s 2018 figures are largely due to a significant rise in the number of foreign visitors, especially from the US, China, and European Union states including Spain, Germany, Italy, and the UK. Attendance by French nationals also increased sharply.
“Although there are more visitors, everyone can explore the Louvre at their own pace and appreciate the artworks to their heart’s content,” the museum’s director, Jean-Luc Martinez, said in a statement. Improving visitor experience has been one of his priorities. He noted enhancements such as the renovation of the main entrance under the I.M. Pei-designed Pyramid and the introduction of timed tickets, such as “quick entry” passes that can be booked online and promise admittance within 30 minutes.
Despite the museum’s successes, there are still longstanding concerns that French citizens only account for 25 percent of the museum’s total attendance. The breakdown of visitors from greater Paris have not been released but in 2015 they formed around 13 percent of attendance, the same as from the US and at peak times just ahead of those from China. To address the issue, the Louvre will introduce free attendance on the first Saturday of every month beginning this week. These will replace the Louvre’s free Sundays, which proved especially popular with foreign tourists avoiding the €15 ($17) admission charge. The museum’s director, Jean-Luc Martinez, is particularly keen for the Saturday events to attract first-time visitors and Parisian families.
On the first free night, on January 5, visitors will be invited to play board games among 17th-century sculptures, listen to the brass section of the Orchestre de Paris, and explore the museum’s monumental Assyrian sculptures in darkened galleries with the aid of a flashlight.
Cultural diplomacy is another of the director’s initiatives, especially in the Middle East. Last year, the Louvre sent 50 works to Tehran in its first foray to Iran. It has plans to send objects to Doha in Qatar in 2020, and is due to be a major player if a billion-dollar deal signed between France and Saudi Arabia to develop the kingdom’s cultural infrastructure goes ahead.
Meanwhile, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has already announced that it attracted 1 million visitors in its inaugural year, with a majority of them coming from India.
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