You probably know by now that the travelling exhibit featuring the bones o Al-288-1, known to most as “Lucy,” has been drawing small crowds, and the museums that are hosting it are losing money. Why?
I have guess.
You may remember that when the news first got around that Lucy would be on tour, there was a fair amount of discussion regarding the possibility that this was a bad idea. The fossils are delicate, and there is a good argument that they should not be moved for this purpose.
I may be wrong about this, but I think the palaeoanthropology community is sort of divided on this issue, and enough people in this community are not in favor of this exhibit that there has not been the excitement generated among science communicators, educators, journalists, and dare I say, bloggers, to spark the broader interest in each region the fossils are traveling to. Not enouhg basic internet = no tipping point. The default ‘profit’ for a museum exhibit is below zero. It is probably the case that the door take for almost everything a museum does is negative relative to the cost. The occasional block buster (as Lucy could have been) and other sources of money keep the museums open.
And the lack of interest in Lucy has not been the result of the usual suspects, such as the economy:
Although many museums nationwide are struggling, laying off employees and scaling back exhibition plans, the recession has not hurt every blockbuster that has opened over the last year. Since it opened in October at the Dallas Museum of Art, the show “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” has broken all of the museum’s attendance records. At the Field Museum in Chicago, an exhibition called “The Aztec World,” which opened in October, has also been a success. The general adult entrance fees on those shows are higher than admission was to Lucy.