A Million Visitors: By the Numbers This week Crystal Bridges celebrates welcoming our one millionth visitor since the opening of the Museum on November 11, 2011. It is, without a doubt, an important (and if I do say so myself, impressive) milestone. Ask around and most people will agree that one million is a lot. In fact, most of our human brains can’t readily conceptualize that large a number. So, naturally, I turned to children’s literature to help me get my point across. Two great children’s books: one titled How Much is a Million, by David Schwartz, and the other titled A Million Dots, by Andrew Clements, (both available in the Bentonville Public Library) helped me with the following examples:
Despite the admitted magnitude of the number, I nevertheless can’t help but be reminded of the scene in Austin Powers in which Dr. Evil demands “One MILLION dollars” to ransom the world—and all the evil-doers around the table sort of shuffle their feet in embarrassment for his paltry figure. In today’s big, wide, modern world, it’s true: one million isn’t what it used to be. There are now 7 BILLION (with a B) people in the world, after all. Even in the world of national museums, of which Crystal Bridges is proud to be a player, one million is not a rare number. The top ten most visited museums in the US, in fact, all boast at least 1 million visitors a year. Number ten on this list, the National Portrait Gallery, sees just over one million visitors a year. (Crystal Bridges ranks about 15th on this list, at last check.) The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, number one on the list, sees 6 million visitors in a year, and the Louvre in Paris… nearly 10 million! So why are we so excited over a mere one million?
Well, consider: Crystal Bridges is located in a town of 35,000 people, in a “metropolitan area” (we use this term somewhat ironically) of some 473,830 souls. The population of New York City, however, recently topped 8.3 million; and that’s just the city itself. The larger metropolitan area boasts some 18 million people. Let’s look at some comparisons between New York and Northwest Arkansas. For these purposes, and to keep this (admittedly tenuous) comparison from becoming completely absurd, we’ll stick to the 8.3 million number. That’s about 17 times the population of Northwest Arkansas. For us to achieve New York’s population in our region, we would have to draw a wobbly elliptical circle that extended from Fort Smith around Little Rock, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Joplin and Springfield, Missouri; and Wichita, Kansas. We’d still probably come in under 8.3 million, but I’m fudging for all the rural areas in between.
This oddly shaped boundary would encompass roughly 24,310 square miles. By comparison, the entire area of New York City is 304 square miles. If you do the math, you’ll find that our imaginary regional population area of 8 million people is some 79 times the size of New York City. Wichita, the furthest point from Crystal Bridges on this elliptical boundary, is some 240 highway miles (about 4 hours) from the Museum. A cross-town subway trip in New York: maybe 45 minutes. I’m no statistician. Quite the opposite, in fact. I became a writer partially to avoid numbers like these. So I’m not going to draw any conclusions from this bundle of fascinating facts. Any I attempted to draw would be highly unscientific and would probably garner all kinds of unhappy comments from people who actually know something about statistics. But it seems to me that for Crystal Bridges to have drawn one million visitors in the first 20 months of our existence, in an area this sparsely populated is—in a word—remarkable. It means they like us… it’s working. It means art really is for everyone, that if you build it, in short, they will come. In our book, it’s definitely worthy of a celebration.