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Charlotte Area News

Bechtler Exceeds Vistor Goal

The NASCAR Hall of Fame may be falling short of projections for the year, but Charlotte's new museums see a rosier picture in their attendance numbers. Since the Bechtler Museum opened in the Levine Center for the Arts last New Year's Eve, more than 45,000 people have paid to visit the city's first modern art museum. The Bechtler expected 44,000 visitors. By contrast, the nearby NASCAR Hall of Fame has received less than half the 800,000 attendees boosters had promised. The Bechtler Museum's projections were far more modest, largely because the museum was designed for a smaller audience, says education director Christopher Lawing. "The collection itself is very intimate and was in the Bechtlers' homes and businesses and meant to be enjoyed - but not in a large, cold and sterile way," says Lawing. "So we would never be able to handle - let's say - 300,000 people. Nor was that ever the plan for the museum." While the NASCAR Hall of Fame is adjusting its budget and marketing strategy to attract a larger audience, Lawing says the Bechtler and other new museums in the Levine Center for the Arts appear to be feeding off one another's success. "I think that having all three museums in a one block area is a one-stop shopping for culture," says Lawing. "I've seen a surge in attendance by people who have gone to other museums earlier in the day." The Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture exceeded its projection of 57,000 paid and unpaid visitors for the year. The newly-opened Mint Museum hopes 150,000 people will view its collection during the coming year. For the Bechtler Museum, Lawing says funding will be the primary challenge in 2011. The museum needs at least one more year of proven success before it can qualify for state or federal grants. "There's this two year period in which we're relying on corporate and individual and foundation support before we can receive these larger public funds," says Lawing. Corporate sponsorships, endowments and funding from the Arts and Science Council currently make up more than 75 percent of the Bechtler's $2.3 million budget.