By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The DuSable Museum of African American History and Culture saw a big jump in visitors as interest in Black history continues to grow with the new Smithsonian Black Museum in Washington, D.C.
Attendance at the DuSable was up 15 percent, according to the latest number from Museum in the Park (MIP), a group of publicly owned and operated prominent museum and institutions managed by the Chicago Park District. According to MIP, 115,364 people visited the DuSable last year.
Out of 15 museums and attractions, the DuSable was one of four institutions that posted double digit gains in 2016. The other three were the Art Institute of Chicago, which had 1.8 million visitors — a 15 percent increase; the Field Museum’s 1.7 million visitors, a 19 percent increase. The biggest jump was the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts, whose 24,980 visitors represented a whopping 56 percent increase.
Nearly 16 million visitors attended Chicago’s museums and zoos in 2016.
The numbers reflect a successful year for Chicago museums, which set attendance records for 2016. The figures are even higher than 2015, when most of the museums had smaller attendance gains. For the DuSable, the increase is an inspiring rebound from 2015, where attendance dropped by 15 percent.
The rebound is perhaps the first sign of success under CEO Perri Irmer, a prominent Chicago attorney who was hired in September 2015 to boost DuSable’s attendance and memberships.
According to the Museum of the Parks, DuSable’s rebound in 2016 is attributed to a number of year-round programs and the special “watch party” that celebrated the opening of the new, 400,000 square foot Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened last September amid huge crowds after months of unprecedented donations from Black celebrities. In just four months since the opening, nearly 750,000 visitors have passed through the five story structure near the Washington Monument. Free, timed passes to the museum have been hard to obtain and have been “sold out” since museum officials began distributing them to control overwhelming crowds. As of Tuesday, January 31, visitors who want to see the museum will have to wait until May. Passes for visits during that month were made available Wednesday, February 1.
During the “watch party” at the DuSable Museum, it was standing room only as visitors viewed as President Barack Obama opened the NMAAHC museum with Founding Director and Chicago native Lonnie Bunch. After the party, visitors flooded the DuSable’s staff inquiring about memberships to the museum in Washington Park. The DuSable has year-round membership that includes a membership to the NMAAHC.