Opening to international fanfare in June 2009, the €129m New Acropolis Museum has become the embodiment of the Greek desire to see Elgin’s marble trophies returned to Athens. However, the paying public has been less-than-impressed with the museum, which has failed to attract the visitor numbers that were predicted.
In 2006 journalist Tom Flynn noted: “The old Acropolis Museum currently attracts around 1.5 million people each year. The Greeks hope their New Acropolis Museum will at least double that figure.”
In an interview in Time a year later, Dimitrios Pandermalis, the current president of the museum, anticipated in excess of two million visitors passing annually through the doors.
The museum has, however, failed to meet such expectations. In the four years since opening, 5,440,343 people have visited the museum – considerably fewer than the eight million its president envisioned.
Opening in the teeth of the economic recession, the low visitor numbers are partly understandable. Nonetheless, the rapid decline in attendance over the course of the New Acropolis Museum’s short lifetime is worrying.
During its first year of operation (June 2009/May 2010), visitor numbers were a creditable 1,950,539, falling just shy of the two million anticipated by Pandermalis.
Since then, however, there has been a steep fall-off in attendance and the latest figure of 1,036,059 (June 2012/May 2013) reveals a drop of almost 50% in only three years. Equally unsettling is the plummeting position of the New Acropolis Museum compared with other international museums.
Attendance figures compiled by the Art Newspaper placed the New Acropolis Museum in 25th position in 2010 (the first full calendar year it was open to the public). The museum dropped 13 places in 2011, and an additional 21 places in 2012, finishing last year in 59th position – a fall of 34 places in just two years.
There are some grounds for optimism; the declining trend in visitor numbers should be reversed in 2013 as Greece benefits from the political upheavals affecting rival tourist destinations such as Egypt and Turkey. However, a reliance on the instability of neighbouring countries scarcely guarantees a bright future for the museum.
Restitutionists petitioning for the return of Elgin’s keepsakes have greeted the disappointing attendance figures at the New Acropolis Museum with deafening silence – hardly surprising since drawing attention to the lacklustre performance can only damage attempts to repatriate the marbles.
However, it is hoped that the campaign groups meeting in Sydney this November will grasp the nettle and take time away from their usual diatribes against the British Museum to ask some searching questions of Greek culture officials in attendance.