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Vatican exhibition project means bounty for Lubbock, South Plains
By MICHAEL GAFFNEY LubbockOnline.com

If the Vatican exhibition draws 150,000 to 300,000 visitors to the Museum of Texas Tech, the city and region stands to strike gold, so to speak, said media consultant Dave Walker.

The media consultant, who is president of Walker Communications, said that the city stands to benefit in numerous ways from the exhibit, "Traditions and Renewal: The Vatican Museums Exhibition." Walker was hired by Market Lubbock Inc. to help promote the show.

"There is a formula we use to estimate the potential revenue for people who stay overnight in Lubbock," Walker said. "I think the multiplier is $113 per person per night, and we have more than 68,000 tickets out, but I can't tell you how many are staying in hotels, as opposed to staying with family or friends, or how many live here."

"In some ways it's impossible to guess how much revenue the exhibit will generate," Walker said, "but we know that people will go out and spend money after visiting the Museum (of Texas Tech)."

Market Lubbock Inc. is a non-profit agency appointed by the City Council to promote business interest and create jobs in the city. Retaining Walker's firm is part of the city's contribution to the exhibition.

The Vatican exhibit, which will feature 31 Roman frescoes painted in the 12th and 13th centuries, will set a precedent for Lubbock and for the Vatican Museums, which never before have allowed art works from its collections to be shown in a city as small as Lubbock.

"It's really extraordinary that a painting on a piece of wall from a church in Rome that's over 900 years old will be packed up and shipped to Lubbock, Texas," Walker said. "I think the most important thing about this exhibit is the affirmation that we are good enough to have such a prestigious event."

The city is investing in the boost to the community's image that a Vatican exhibition brings, said David Sharp, Market Lubbock's chief executive officer.

"There will be a direct economic benefit to the city," Sharp said. "But the big thing we saw here was an opportunity to enhance the prestige of Lubbock. There's never been an exhibit from the Vatican in a city this size and this thing will have a long afterlife because we will be known as the community that hosted a Vatican exhibit.

"And if you can host a Vatican exhibit there are lots of things you can do," Sharp said.

When Market Lubbock, Inc. approaches a group considering a Hub City site to host a convention, for example, the organization can point to the exhibition to support its selling points, Sharp said.

"Lubbock is capable of hosting international- and national-scope events, that's the message we want to get out," Sharp said. "We can say we handled 200,000 to 300,000 visitors for a Vatican exhibit, so surely we can handle 25,000 to 30,000 for a convention."

Market Lubbock is contributing Walker's salary as well as contracting with Stenocall, a telecommunications company that provides in-bound call services, Sharp said. Stenocall will provide bilingual operators who will take reservations for exhibit tickets, he said.

"Up until this week the phone was ringing at the Museum (of Texas Tech) and they only had two people," Sharp said. "A lot of people called us and said, 'We've been trying for three days to get through and can't.' So we contacted the folks at Stenocall and asked if they could help us out."

Stenocall will provide 24-hour, seven days a week service, said Sandra Wood, the company's national accounts executive.

Tickets are available for July and August visits, Wood said.

"The month of June is completely booked," Wood said, "and the first two weeks of September are reserved for school children and organizations."

Museum personnel ask that people determine the date and time of day that they would like to attend the exhibit before calling to reserve tickets.

Market Lubbock personnel also will fly to Mexico in the near future, along with representatives from the Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau and Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation personnel, "to stir up interest among Mexican tour operators," Sharp said, "in hope of luring some Mexican visitors to Lubbock."

The organization's total cash outlay in support of the Vatican exhibition will be about $125,000 to $130,000, Sharp said.

Since the exhibition is free of charge, the public is a big winner, Walker said. But the people involved in securing the exhibition have to work much harder to raise the necessary funds because of that fact, he said.

"It would be easier for us to pay for this (exhibition) if we charged for tickets," Walker said.

But if more than 100,000 non-residents visit the Hub City for the show, "I'll be ecstatic," he said, "because that means 100,000 people in Europe can't see this exhibit, and believe me, it's a big deal ... that these frescoes are coming to Lubbock."

It means that people from Europe and the Eastern Hemisphere probably will make the trip to view the art works, especially since they will not be publicly shown again for 20 years after the Hub City exhibit, Walker said.

Donald Haragan, co-chair of the Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation steering committee, said that he expects an international audience to visit the Hub City during the exhibition's run, between June 2 and Sept. 15, 2002.

The foundation is a non-profit organization responsible for raising funds to pay for restoring the frescoes, insuring the art works, promoting the exhibition through various media, and maintaining a small staff that handles day-to-day needs related to the exhibition.

An estimated $4 million is needed to underwrite the exhibit, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, president and executive director of the foundation. About 85 percent of the total cost of the project will be raised by the foundation, Neyland said.

Haragan, in concert with the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, helped convince the Vatican Museums to allow the exhibit to come to Lubbock. Tech has a separate contract with the Vatican Museums and is partnered with the Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation, which is headed by the Rev. Neyland, Haragan said.

President emeritus and professor of atmospheric science in the honors program at Texas Tech, Haragan said that he was the university president when Neyland approached him with the idea of hosting a Vatican art exhibit at the university's museum. "By promising the university's support to Vatican officials about four years ago, we were able to secure the exhibition," Haragan said.

"Texas Tech is, of course, paying for all the renovation that have to be done at the Museum for the exhibition," Haragan said. "We also are responsible for providing security during the exhibit, and have the responsibility for publishing a catalog for the exhibit."

The university expects to spend between $75,000 and $100,000 to renovate the Museum's Diamond M Gallery, where the frescoes will be displayed, and another $200,000 to $220,000 to publish commemorative catalogs, Haragan said.

"But we hope to recoup the cost for the catalogs," he said. "We're going to actually publish two catalogs, one for the Vatican frescoes and one for the added exhibit that includes 17th and 18th century art from the Franz Meyer Museum (of Mexico) and 16th and 17th century art works from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation of Houston."

Gary Edson, executive director for the Museum of Texas Tech, said that the university has a clearly defined role with regard to the exhibition.

"We are not giving money to the (Vatican Exhibit) foundation," he said. "The university is not a philanthropic organization. But we are providing security, additional staff, the gallery and renovation to the gallery, as well as custodial services, volunteers, parking and other things. So I see our contribution as substantial because all those services cost money."

The Museum has begun the process of stepping up security, said David K. Dean, associate director of operations for the museum.

"But the main push on that will be just before the frescoes arrive," Dean said. "We're looking at adding additional personnel and stepping up some of the electronic surveillance capabilities, although I don't want to divulge too much about that."

The original plan called for two jets to carry the frescoes across the sea, but Continental and the Vatican Museums agreed that a single Boeing-777 would be used instead, Walker said. The frescoes will fly from Rome to New Jersey, then on to Houston where they will be loaded onto ground transportation and driven to Lubbock, he said.

"The reason the frescoes will be trucked from Houston is, while our runway can handle a 777, Continental does not have the facilities here in Lubbock to unload the plane," he said. "It might take 20 people and some equipment we don't have at Lubbock International Airport."

Security will be tight during the transportation from Rome, New Jersey and Houston to Lubbock, he said.

"During the ground transportation, the exhibition will be guarded either by private security personnel or Department of Public Safety officers," Walker said. "We're still working on that."

Rumors that the Vatican's Swiss Guards would accompany the art works are false, he added.

"The Swiss Guard is not coming," Walker said. "The Guard's sole mission is to protect the pope."

To reserve free tickets, callers must stipulate the date and time of day they want to visit the Museum, he added.

For ticket reservations, call toll free (866) 803-6873. Local callers dial 742-6800.

For online information, visit the Museum of Texas Tech Web site at http://www.museum.ttu.edu/.




The exhibit has ended
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