July 15, 2019
Mass. Nonprofit Museums Post 2.9% Gain in Attendance

November 25, 2018 — Twenty of the most visited nonprofit museums in Massachusetts collectively posted a 2.9% attendance gain last year, compared to the year before, according to a newly compiled ranking.

The ranking, compiled by and published in the Boston Business Journal (BBJ), examined the largest museums based on total attendance in calendar year 2017.

MASS Moca in North Adams posted a 66.7% increase in visitors in 2017 compared to the year before—275,000 vs. 165,000—the largest percentage increase among the museums for which attendance figures were available for 2015, 2016, and 2017.

The top 20 most visited nonprofit museums in Massachusetts in 2016 saw attendance increase 4% over the prior year.

Boston's New England Aquarium was the top drawing museum in 2017, attracting 1,418,949 visitors, up 1.8% over attendance in 2016.

Ranked number two in 2017 was Boston's Museum of Science (MOS), which attracted 1,381,490 visitors, down 1.2% from 2016, during which it attracted 1,397,642 visitors, the most of any nonprofit Massachusetts museum that year.

Admission prices didn't seem to deter or spur attendance. New England Aquarium has a set adult admission price of $27.95 (on par with MOS's $28, the highest adult admission price of the 20 museums) and saw attendance increase in 2017, while Paul Revere House in Boston, which continued to charge the lowest set adult admission fee of $5, saw attendance drop 2.4% last year to 309,885 visitors.

Thirteen of the organizations for which attendance figures are available for both years posted gains in 2017 and seven reported attendance declines. Those that saw attendance gains collectively registered a 9.9% increase in attendance; those that experienced attendance declines collectively registered a 3.0% drop in attendance.

The USS Constitution Museum, posted the largest attendance drop of the 20 institutions—down 11.9% in 2017, to 447,257 visitors—after having posted a 23.5% increase in 2016 .

Old North Church in Boston also saw attendance fall 9.6% to 547,385 in 2017, after increasing 4.7% the previous year.

In each of the last two years, the USS Constitution Museum and Old North Church suggested a donation in place of mandatory admission fees, although Old North Church earlier this year instituted a mandatory admission fee.

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which has the largest paid staff of 788 people, experienced a 5.3% attendance increase in 2017, to 1,226,974 visitors, and was the third most visited nonprofit museum in the state.

MOS had the second highest number of paid staff (417) in 2017, while the Paul Revere House had the smallest paid staff of 30.

Other museums with strong admissions gains in 2016 were the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston (266,257 admissions, up 21.7%), the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (301,167 admissions, up 12.8%), and the Harvard Museums of Science & Culture in Cambridge (307,104, up 12.1%).

Other museums registering attendance declines included Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield (223,500 admissions, down 7.2%), the Discovery Museum in Acton, which was closed for half the year while it expanded (182,125 admissions, down 5.2%),and Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge (253,087 admissions, down 1.3%).

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