Today, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is celebrating a milestone it hasn’t had the chance to celebrate in a long time: its one millionth visitor this year.
With that, 2017 marks a record-breaking year for the Hirshhorn; its visitor numbers are up 70 percent from last year, making this the first time the museum’s attendance has broken seven digits in 30 years.
That also means that the Hirshhorn now ranks as the third most-visited modern art museum in the U.S.—behind the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art—according to a press release. And since 2014, when the museum welcomed Director Melissa Chiu, its number of annual visitors has doubled.
Chiu’s position at the Hirshhorn came with early criticism that she was not committed to D.C.’s artistic prowess. She made the decision to hold the Hirshhorn’s 40th anniversary gala in New York, which led to questions about whether she took the District seriously as an arts town. But the Hirshhorn is celebrating its role in a thriving community; a spokesperson for the Hirshhorn noted that the record numbers are a “dramatic testament” to D.C.’s growing passion for contemporary art.
“In the last three years since Director Melissa Chiu took over and as the leadership changes throughout the museum, the visitor numbers have continued to soar and increase thanks to our groundbreaking exhibitions and programs with leading arts,” says Deputy Director Elizabeth Duggal. “It’s clear the public is excited by that and to be part of learning more about art and how to experience art form a contemporary perspective.”
Duggal adds that the rapid increase of visitors is because of special programming that was introduced in the last year to attract more visitors and give them a better experience at the museum. The museum hired 120 visitor attendants, a pop-up coffee shop was introduced, and an audio tour was offered for the first time this year.
New programming was able to reach a wider audience, with virtual reality technology making the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition accessible to those with mobility impairments, and special tours in American Sign Language, Duggal says.
Additionally, Duggal says that exhibits like Ai Weiwei’s Trace, which features sculptures of activists and political prisoners made out of Legos, have attracted different communities to the museum. Yoko Ono‘s “My Mommy is Beautiful” installation earlier this year drew 50,000 people alone to write messages about their mothers in the interactive work. And visitors who came during the week of inauguration and the Women’s March in January may have made an impact on the count, the museum says.
“[The] Hirshhorn is the nation’s museum of modern and contemporary art. So it means so much to both the nation and the world that we had our highest annual attendance in 30 years,” Duggal says. “It says a lot about appreciation for the Hirshhorn and its place on the Mall.”
Today’s millionth visitor was gifted with a free membership to the Hirshhorn and one-of-a-kind crafts. The museum also threw a party for itself, with a Hirshhorn-shaped cake from Buttercream Bakery. The celebration will continue with “Million Lego Mornings” every Saturday in December, where visitors are invited to make their own Lego artwork, inspired by the Trace exhibit.