Art Market

Attendance figures for the U.K.’s National Portrait Gallery were drastically understated by an external tallying firm.

Nate Freeman
Aug 28, 2018 4:35PM, via The Art Newspaper

A room at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Photo by  Herry Lawford, via Wikimedia Commons.

The National Portrait Gallery in London has been reporting serious declines in attendance for the last three years—the attendance for a 12-month period between 2015 and 2016 was 2.1 million, and the attendance for the same timespan between 2017 and 2018 appeared to fall to 1.1 million. Visitor numbers for the first three months of the 2018 to 2019 period were down another 28 percent compared to the previous period, according to an official tally.

But apparently the news is too bad to be true. The Art Newspaper reports that a combination of faulty equipment and human error resulted in attendance figures getting dramatically deflated, and while the numbers have indeed taken a dip since the institution’s attendance peaked in 2015, the situation is not as bad as the museum once thought. In a statement, the NPG said that an external data system called Ipsos Retail Performance “significantly undercounted visitors through the main entrance.”

This afternoon, the NPG released its updated figures, showing that the museum had 1,692,000 visitors in the 2017/2018 year, not the erroneous figure of 1.1 million.

The snafu comes at a time when the museum needs to convince donors and the government’s department of culture of its vitality and importance, as it’s trying to raise £35.5 million ($45.7 million) for renovations to be completed by 2022. While private donors have pledged £13.2 ($17 million), and the Heritage Lottery Fund has put forth £9.4 million ($12.1 million), it is still seeking £13 million ($16.7 million) to reach its goal.

Technology used by Ipsos is to be blamed for the miscounting, and the human error occurred when, after one of the machines had failed a test because it was undercounting attendance, Ipsos instead said the device passed the test, and the faulty machine was used for another year. When asked by The Art Newspaper if Ipsos would provide the institution with any funds to make up for the reputational hit it took due to the inaction against the malfunctioning machine, the NPG said it couldn’t comment.

Nate Freeman
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