Mailbag: The Lucy exhibit

Well, my husband and I braved Times Square and went to the exhibit a week ago Sunday. The streets were packed, it was hot and humid -- and in the Discovery Center there were probably five people touring the exhibit. Lots of artifacts of Ethiopian life and Islam and Christianity. Not much reference though, missing dates and context. After those galleries we got to the hominid casts and they painted a fairly good picture of human evolutionary theory as understood at this time. There were some fossils I hadn't seen and I learned a few of my old friends have had their genus or species changed since I last visited them. When we finally got to Lucy, she was lying in a case and I have to admit, I got a little teary. I mean, there she was, right in front of me. They had castings of the fossils in an upright glass case. I spent a lot of time looking at her, and it is amazing how complete she is. The security guard got to talking with us and he says the exhibit has been a big flop. I asked why it was in Times Square instead of the Natural History Museum. He said it's because the Leakeys are associated with the Museum so it was not even considered. He said it's been a flop everywhere it's been and it is a shame. I felt like shouting to all the people outside looking at the lights and the cars and marquees, telling them what they're missing. Anyway, I think if they brought this exhibit to Berkeley it would sell out for its entire run. They sure misidentified their audience, IMO. You were right, the mural was very nice. There's even a section on the way out where you can watch a video of how the artist came up with the concept and created his images.

Many thanks for the description –

I think the main problem with the exhibits has been the marketing strategy. The Houston museum really got the ball rolling, but in the wrong direction. It would have worked better for shorter intervals at a much larger number of small-market locales. Seattle had received 60,000 visitors to the exhibit late in its run there. That wasn’t enough for the budget they were using, but that would be a stellar number for a mid-sized city. Run it through 20 cities, say three weeks each, as a standalone with lots more casts and context.

Well, considering the concerted opposition of so many big-name anthropologists, it was also hard for them to use academic connections. The kind of big-evening opening with lectures became hard for them to arrange, I think – and that always helps with local press.

Glad you got the chance – like I said, it’s not likely any of us will be so close again!