Word’s out: Museum visits at record pace

Published 12:10 am Saturday, July 13, 2019

That Southeast Texans are reacquainting themselves with the Museum of the Gulf Coast is evident in the “turnstyle” numbers.

The downtown Port Arthur museum, located at 700 Procter St., set record attendance in 2018, drawing 15,920 people. You haven’t seen anything yet, museum leaders say.

Through June 30, the halfway mark for 2019, the museum has attracted 9,897 people, up from 8,007 for the first six months of 2018 and about 60 percent of total attendance in record-setting ’18. Halfway through 2017, attendance was 6,035, so the trend is encouraging.

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Tom Neal, museum director, said the museum continues to draw visitors from some 33-40 states per month, about what they’ve typically done in recent years. Visitors also travel from some eight to 20 foreign countries.

Part of the attraction for those distant travelers rests in the quality of notables who’ve been enshrined in the halls of fame. They include homegrown but internationally renowned artists like rock, soul and blues singer Janis Joplin and abstract impressionist Robert Rauschenberg. Their exhibits are spectacular, including original works by both luminaries. Neal said those artists have always drawn global attention.

What’s changed, he said, is that locals are finding their way back downtown and in large numbers. Some, he said, haven’t visited for years; some never made it once. It’s not unusual, Neal said, to meet visitors who ask, rhetorically, “Why haven’t I come before.”

“Somehow the museum fell off their radar,” Neal said. “Now they are coming back and they are bringing their friends.”

If attendance numbers don’t tell the full story for the rebound, then Facebook tells a bit more. Facebook “likes” and Trip Advisor both reflect the new and additional interest in the museum. The “likes” have almost doubled and Trip Advisor suggests the museum is the favorite tourist attraction around here, ahead of Sabine Pass Battleground Historic Site, Sea Rim State Park and Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine. The museum’s appeal is rated at 4.8 points out of 5.

Heightened attendance might reflect public events such as Family Fun Days, with special features; public inductions of the newly enshrined; and events such as book signings, art exhibits and musical events, including visits by symphony artists.

But no one would come if Port Arthur and Southeast Texas didn’t have compelling stories to tell. They abound in these parts, which has nurtured or launched the careers of brilliant engineers, test pilots, Hollywood actors and actresses, state and national leaders, superb athletes and artists and musicians and more.

Birthplace of Janis Joplin. And Rauschenberg. And Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Home to Ernie Ladd. And Tex Ritter. And Clifton Chenier.

The coast churns out great people with great stories. The museum tells them beautifully.

Now it’s your turn: Go.