King Tut crowds not necessarily bonanza for Children's Museum

June 29, 2009

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis' King Tut exhibit comes with an extra charge, but it won't necessarily create a windfall for the venue.

Proceeds from "Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs" first will go to the show's for-profit producer, Arts and Exhibitions International of Aurora, Ohio. Only after it recoups its costs will the Children's Museum receive revenue.

Advance sales for the show, which opened June 27, suggest it could be a blockbuster. Considering Indianapolis is the smallest city to host the show so far, museum CEO Jeffrey Patchen views the opportunity to host it as a gift, rather than a money-maker.

"When you see how many semis it took to get it here, with an armed convoy," Patchen said, "it's beyond amazing that these pieces that are priceless are here in Indianapolis."

The exhibit is a slightly smaller sister to the one that's attracted more than 1 million visitors in Chicago, Philadelphia and London. "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," which premiered in 2005, is still traveling.

When the Egyptian government decided to add a second show, which opened in Atlanta, a top official with close ties to the Children's Museum insisted that it stop in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis' King Tut exhibit has a capacity of 500,000 over four months. Patchen said he hopes to sell at least 350,000 tickets. At that point, Arts and Exhibitions will probably recover its costs, and the museum will receive a "small" percentage of ticket revenue, Patchen said. The producer and Egyptian government will split the rest.

Patchen declined to disclose details of the contract with AEI, a division of sports mogul Philip Anschutz's Anschutz Entertainment Group.

He isn't sure whether the museum will be in the black by the time the exhibit closes in on Oct. 25. Whether it receives any revenue will depend not just on the number of tickets sold, but the mix.

The Children's Museum consolidated its regular admission into one price several years ago. King Tut is the first special exhibit since then to come with an extra charge.

AEI set the prices, which are as high as $30 for a non-member adult and include access to the whole museum.

The company also runs and profits from the King Tut gift shop. Proceeds from one item—an Indiana Jones—style hat-will benefit an Egyptian children's museum.

Staffers in Indianapolis have worked the past several years designing exhibits for the Egyptian museum, which is under construction outside Cairo.

The relationship began in 2005, when the Children's Museum included prominent Egyptologist Zahi Hawass in a traveling exhibit about geography and exploration. Patchen and others went to Cairo to film Hawass.

Hawass is head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and he's led the modernization of Egypt's museums. He asked the Indianapolis crew to critique plans for a new children's museum, a pet project of the first lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak.

In the end, Hawass wanted The Children's Museum of Indianapolis to design the exhibits.

"How could we say no?" Patchen said.

The Children's Museum took no payment for its consulting work. Patchen said he figured Hawass would return the favor through a speaking engagement, or lending a few artifacts.

Instead, Hawass promised to bring King Tut to Indianapolis. Patchen said Arts and Exhibitions International would never have considered a market as small as Indianapolis if it weren't for Hawass, who has overseen creation of both Tut exhibits.

"This is a huge gift from the Egyptian government," Patchen said.

The smaller King Tut travels to Toronto after its Indianapolis run concludes.

AEI Senior Vice President Mark Lach said both Tut exhibits include 50 objects from King Tut's tomb, plus artifacts from others. Indianapolis audiences will see artifacts spanning a 2,000-year period that includes Tut's reign.

"It's kind of Egypt 101," Lach said.

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