Remai Modern saw about 420,000 'visits' in 2018

The new art museum saw about 420,000 "visits" in 2018, according to preliminary figures, but that doesn't mean 420,000 individual people went to the museum during its first full calendar year.

Art museum offers new calendar-year statistic, clarifies how it was calculated

Remai Modern Art Museum saw 420,000 "visits" during 2018, according to preliminary figures. But the museum says it has has no way of knowing how many of those people were counted more than once as they visited different parts of the museum, such as the restaurant or store. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Saskatoon's Remai Modern Art Museum saw about 420,000 "visits" in 2018, according to preliminary figures shared with CBC News, but that doesn't mean 420,000 individual people went to the museum during its first full calendar year.

"A visit does not equate to one person," the museum said in an emailed statement.

"We count visits by adding up the following categories: general admission, sponsored free admission, member visits, Shift restaurant patrons, Art & Design Store shoppers, public and private events, ground floor and Connect Gallery visits and learning and engagement activities."

The museum uses door counters as part of its calculation.

"We have no way of measuring which of these numbers include the same person doing multiple activities," the statement continued.

"That is why we use the word 'visit' rather than 'visitor' in our statistics, which is a carry-over from the goals in the aforementioned business plan."

'Worth asking how that number was calculated'

That 2015-2019 business plan (released in early 2015) projected Remai's annual visitation to be 220,000. The number was arrived at by a third-party business advisory firm, MNP LLP, working with gallery staff.

Due to a planned sculpture garden that did not happen, the visitation estimate was reduced to 190,000.

Therefore in its first full calendar year, Remai Modern saw more than double the number of visitors than it eventually predicted.

"On the surface it looks like they've had a way more visitation than they had expected," said Leah Sandals, news editor at Toronto's Canadian Art Magazine.

"But it's also worth asking how that number was calculated."

Data on where out-of-province visitors are coming from is collected by staff at the guest experience desk. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Not all museums and galleries report visitation the same way, Sandals added.  

Both the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum reported visitors, not visits, in their latest annual reports, while the equivalent reports for Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Alberta Art Gallery only highlighted the number of visitors at some events and exhibits. 

"What I do know is that pressure can be high to convey success because if success is not conveyed it's more difficult to get money from private sources, from donors," said Sandals of museums and galleries generally.

After Remai Modern initially opened, some Saskatoon city councillors worried the museum's attendance and membership targets were too high.

But numbers released last October — covering the museum's first year of operation following its October 2017 opening — showed the museum besting its membership and general admission revenue targets.

The 2018 visits figure shared with CBC News comes ahead of the museum's 2018 annual report, which will be released later this year. That report will be based on the museum's 2018 audited financial statements, which will be released at the museum board's annual general meeting (AGM) on March 26.

Alberta tops list of out-of-province guests

On its one-year anniversary, Remai Modern said that 40 per cent of its visitors came from outside Saskatchewan.

Additional information recently provided by the museum further fleshes out just where Canadian Remai Modern visitors are coming from.  

"The highest attendance from visitors outside of the province comes from Alberta, Ontario/Quebec and British Columbia, in that order," according to Remai Modern.

Staffers collect that information at the guest experience desk, and that data is reviewed on a monthly basis to determine an average, according to the museum.

The museum board's AGM will come only 11 days after the exit of CEO and executive director Gregory Burke, whose last day is scheduled for March 15.

The board will undergo a significant makeover: seven of its current 12 members are leaving under circumstances that remain unclear.

"Sometimes what the board does for any arts organization is they in a way hopefully provide some stability during times of leadership [CEO] transition," Sandals said.

"To have both of them in a state of transition at the same time — that's what makes this situation seem unusual to me as an outsider."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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