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Turner exhibit is blockbuster for Mystic Seaport Museum attendance

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Mystic — The J.M.W. Turner painting exhibit played a major role in attracting 95,000 visitors to the Mystic Seaport Museum during its four-month run this winter, a 89% increase over the same period last year.

Museum President Steve White said the attendance figures show the museum’s strategic plan to become more of a year-round destination by staging major exhibits at the new Thompson Exhibition Building is successful.

“We’re beginning to see the direct effect of being an all-weather, all-season museum,” he said.

White said 65% of those who came to the museum during the time the exhibit ran — Oct. 5, 2019, to Feb. 23, 2020 — were from outside Connecticut, and a survey showed two-thirds of them said they came to specifically see the Turner exhibit, which featured 90 rarely seen watercolor paintings from the famed British artist. The Seaport was the only North American venue for the exhibition.

White said the response to the Turner exhibit and others over the past two years is “reassuring to us and our donors who made this happen and believed in our vision.”

White said that when he talked to one patron looking at a Turner painting featuring a whaling ship and mentioned that this was the first time that painting had ever been displayed at an institution that had an actual whaling ship, the Charles W. Morgan, the patron did not know the museum had a whaling ship. The visitor had come to see the paintings, and White said the exhibit was successful in exposing that person to what the museum has to offer.

White said the museum has just begun the third year of a four-year stretch of presenting major new exhibits, many of them in the Thompson Building, which was specifically designed to do that.

He said the two years of exhibits have had a compounding effect on increasing interest in the museum.

He also pointed out that to see the artifacts in these exhibits, people normally would have to travel around the world, as they included Viking artifacts from Sweden, maritime clocks from England, the Turner paintings, and artifacts from the lost Franklin expedition from Canada.

This fall, the museum is scheduled to open an exhibit on the Antarctic in the Thompson Building.

“We’re trying to bring the world to Mystic Seaport Museum and grow our attendance in the offseason,” White said.

Another aspect of the museum’s effort to become a year-round attraction moved forward Tuesday night, as the Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission approved plans for a 27-room boutique hotel and restaurant on the site of the current Latitude 41 restaurant, which will be demolished. That project is seen as meeting the needs of the growing destination tourism market.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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