Marilyn exhibition a $13 million economic windfall for Bendigo

Bendigo Art Gallery’s Marilyn Monroe exhibition brought more than $13 million into the region, Victorian government modelling has shown. 

Bendigo East MP Jacinta Allan announced on Wednesday $13.2 million in economic impact for Bendigo was derived from the four-month exhibition, exceeding the $11.2 million benefit forecast before the show opened.  

Ms Allan said it was evidence creative industries were lucrative for Victorians. 

“We knew Marilyn Monroe would be a showstopper and it was,” she said.

“People came to Bendigo, they stayed in our hotels, they ate in our local food eateries and restaurants, they shopped in our local shops. 

“It demonstrates [the gallery] is a facility that brings many jobs, a significant amount of funds flowing into the Bendigo community.”  

More than 140,000 visitors attended the ticketed exhibition in Bendigo between March and July this year. Almost half of those people were from Melbourne, travelling to central Victoria specifically to see the Hollywood-themed show. 

A similar number of people passed through the gallery during its Grace Kelly exhibition two years ago. 

Nearly 47,000 beds were booked in Bendigo hotels by exhibition attendees, contributing to the Victorian regional economy’s annual tourism income of about $11.4 billion. 

The total cost of showing the Marilyn Monroe exhibition is unclear.  

Ms Allan also said the strength of Bendigo’s gallery could inspire young people to choose an artistic career path, citing “strong” art and design programs at La Trobe University as yet more evidence of the region’s creative strength. 

But it was not only the Bendigo economy that benefitted from the blockbuster exhibition; the gallery’s curatorial manager Tansy Curtin said Marilyn challenged her institution artistically.

“It was the first time we went into the international sector and curated our own exhibition, right from the very beginning,” Ms Curtin said. 

“We went from working with fine art to working with contemporary culture.”

These new strings in her institution’s bow meant it was “re-defining” what it meant to be a regional art gallery, no longer catering solely to a local audience but to national and international art-lovers as well. 

Conservation work carried out during the exhibition also meant the gallery was ensure the longevity of Marilyn Monroe artifacts.  

Because many of the items exhibited in the gallery were not normally showcased in a curated setting – many were kept inside the houses of their collectors before coming to Bendigo – Ms Curtin said many were returned to their owners in a better condition than when they arrived, having undergone conservation while housed in central Victoria. 

Milestone year awaits gallery

While Bendigo Art Gallery staff remain tight-lipped about the next blockbuster exhibition destined for Bendigo, history dictates next year will be a milestone occasion for the art institution.  

The gallery will mark its 130th birthday in 2017.   

Curatorial manager Tansy Curtin said the gallery’s pre-existing collection of artwork would take centre stage during the landmark year.

There was a plan to continue bringing a major exhibition, like the collections about Grace Kelly and white wedding dresses, to town every two years, she said, meaning Bendigonians could expect another tentpole show in 2018.  

But Ms Curtin would not be drawn on the subject matter of the exhibition.  

“You don’t want to do icons just for the sake of doing icons,” she said when asked whether it would be in the same vein as Monroe and Kelly shows. 

“There’s other ways we can push the boundaries.”

Both collections attracted more than 100,000 visitors to the gallery, many from outside of Bendigo. 

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