ST. PETERSBURG — Given the immense popularity of the Star Wars franchise, it’s safe to say officials at the Museum of Fine Arts envisioned blockbuster success from an exhibit showcasing the movies’ costumes.
What fan could resist getting up close to Princess Leia’s flowing white gown, Queen Padmé Amidala’s red Throne Room Dress, or the black armor of Darth Vader?
The "Star Wars and the Power of the Costume" exhibit, which opened in November and will close on April 1, is doing well, says Jorge Vidal, MFA’s manager of special projects.
"We have been very happy with attendance figures and very happy just with how the community has been, and with visitors," he said.
December, Vidal added, brought "pretty fantastic" attendance, boosted by out-of-town visitors and the release of the latest movie in the Star Wars series, The Last Jedi.
In the three months since the show opened, the museum says it has seen a 106 percent increase in visitors from North Pinellas County and Tampa and a 119 percent increase in visitors from all of Florida outside of St. Petersburg.
The museum, though, declined to disclose actual visitor counts so far. Nor will it reveal the cost to put on the exhibit, which showcases more than 60 Star Wars costumes, along with props and concept drawings, and is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.
Vidal said security is one reason for keeping financial figures confidential.
The Smithsonian, which gets about 60 percent of its funding from the federal government, also is somewhat tight-lipped when it comes to numbers.
"Our agreements with host organizations preclude us from sharing information about direct costs," said Jennifer Schommer, assistant director of public affairs for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, in an email.
Attendance figures are also not shared, Schommer said.
In general, she said, fees vary, depending on the size and content of the traveling exhibition.
"We offer everything from free poster exhibitions to large, object-based shows in the low six figures," she said, adding that most exhibitions "have a rental fee between $2,500 and $50,000."
Additional expenses could come from shipping the exhibition, gallery preparation — including cases, platforms, temporary walls, painting and lighting — advertising and events and public programs, Schommer said.
The MFA’s Star Wars exhibit was installed over a six-week-period, Vidal said, with about two weeks to reconfigure the galleries and four to build the scenic elements. The Smithsonian sent three members of its staff to assist.
The museum also arranged to offer two special programs in conjunction with the exhibit.
On Thursday, Laela French — director of archives for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art founded by Star Wars Creator George Lucas — presents a program with Katherine Pill, MFA’s curator of contemporary art.
In December, Doug Chiang, vice president and executive creative director of Lucasfilm, spoke of his role in production design for the Star Wars movies.
The museum is also offering discounts on Padawan (in Star Wars-speak, a Jedi apprentice) Days. The discounts, offered last Saturday, with another on March 3, are available with a receipt from a cultural experience such as a public library, museum, arts organization, play or orchestra dated during the exhibition’s run. Visitors will be able to see the exhibit for the museum membership price of $10.
Regular admission is $25 for adults, $18 for youth seven to 17, and free for children under 6.
Vidal said the exhibit has appealed to a broad spectrum of visitors, including those drawn to its fashion, others interested in military history, and Star Wars fans, in general.
"There’s also a lot of repeat visitors. I have talked to several people who have come back four or five times and they say they find something new every time they come to the show," he said.
"It’s a striking show. It’s not just costumes on pedestals and we did a lot to create an environment that recreated the atmosphere in the movies. … This is definitely the biggest show in recent memory we’ve ever had at the museum."
Other major exhibits included Chihuly Across Florida: Masterworks in Glass, in 2004; Monet’s London: Artists’ Reflection on the Thames, 1859-1914, in 2005; and Ancient Egypt — Art and Magic: Treasures from the Foundation Grandur pour l’Art, in 2011.
Vidal, who said that the museum expects attendance to accelerate as the exhibit winds down, noted that the Travel Channel included the MFA exhibit among the top 10 art exhibits worth traveling for this year.
St. Petersburg is the fifth of six stops for the exhibit, which opened in 2015.
Why the MFA?
"I think it is always the responsibility of the museum to expand the idea of what art is and talk about the creative process," Vidal said.
If you go
"Star Wars and the Power of the Costume"
Run: Through April 1
Admission: $25, adults; $18, ages 7-17; $10, members; free, under 6.
Discounts: All visitors pay $10 on March 3 (with receipt from a local cultural experience.)
Museum hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Thurs.; Noon–5 p.m. Sun.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.