Museum Fails to Attract Crowds

by Gordon Deegan

Clare Champion, Friday, October 26, 2001

A series of measures are being put in place to boost poor attendance figures at Clare's new county museum after a disappointing first year of operation. To date the £3.6m project has failed to capture the imagination of both the Clare public and of tourists with only 4,000 people visiting the venue in its first twelve months.

Though the attacks of September 11th and the foot and mouth crisis have severely hit the ability of the museum to attract overseas visitors, the attraction has also failed to attract sizeable numbers of people from within the county. Currently the museum is attracting just under 80 visitors a week and Curator, John Rattigan, said this week that on a couple of days during January and February, the museum only attracted one or two visitors. The average number of visitors to other local authority museums throughout the country is up on 10,000 a year.

As a result of poor attendances, the museum is set to prove a major financial burden to Ennis Urban Council as it prepares for next years spending estimates. Originally, the Museum was to cost £2.4m. However, that figure jumped by 50% to £3.6m. This was offset by a £400,000 contribution from Shannon Development for the tourist information office and £137,000 from the Ennis Information Age Town project. However, with a charge for adults of £3.00 and £1.50 for students, the Museum has been operating at a hefty loss for its first 12 months.

The development of the museum as a visitor attraction has been hampered by the absence of a designated marketing officer for the project. Clare County Council's Director of Service for Community and Enterprise, Eamon Naughton, admitted this week that there was huge scope to expand the numbers visiting the facility. He said a number of measures were being implemented to boost numbers visiting the venue. These include an integrated marketing strategy for all cultural facilities including the museum, Glór, Libraries, Sports and Leisure Complex and the appointment of a new Marketing Officer who will oversee the implementation of a sales, marketing and access initiative.

Other measures include a new website and educational project which will be launched within the next two months which will incorporate workbooks for national school children as well as new integrated cultural signage. Mr. Naughton says that the museum has applied for designation under the Cultural Institutions Act 1997 which will give legal status to the museum to collect archaeological objects that would normally have gone to the National Museum.

A management committee has been put in place to bolster the fortunes of the museum with Clare County Librarian, Noel Crowley, and Ennis Urban Council official, Josephine Cotter-Coughlan, among those appointed to the committee. Mr. Naughton said that the museum will be looking closely at the Dundalk model where they attracted 12,000 visitors last year.

Adding that the curator was doing a fine job, Mr. Naughton expresses confidence that there be significant increases in visitors to the museum adding that it was one of the best museums in the country. Despite the small attendance over the first year Mr. Rattigan said he was reasonably happy with the first year of the museum in terms of visitor numbers. "This year has been a learning process. The structures are being put in place and the museum will continually evolve. The attacks on the United States and the foot and mouth crisis had a major effect. January and February were quiet, the Spring was promising until the foot and mouth, and March and April suffered as a result. The months of May and June were good, while July and August were very good and then the attacks on the 11th of September took place", he added. Mr. Rattigan said that the museum was never going to be a profit-making venture but was a valuable public service.

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