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National African American museum tour in great demand

BETH J. HARPAZ | 5/15/2017, 12:41 a.m.
Lucille Simpson, far right, and her daughter Gwendolyn Norman, both from Detroit, Michigan, wait in line to enter the Smithsonian ...
Lucille Simpson, far right, and her daughter Gwendolyn Norman, both from Detroit, Michigan, wait in line to enter the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Cultural on the National Mall in Washington, May 1. The hottest ticket in Washington right now is for the new museum, where thousands of tickets are snapped up each month within minutes of being released, a full seven months after the museum opened. Pablo Martinez Monsivais

(AP) – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is the hottest ticket in Washington, D.C., right now. Thousands of museum tickets are snapped up each month within minutes of being released, a full seven months after the museum opened.

The 750 passes released online each day at 6:30 a.m. are gone within 15 to 30 minutes. When 105,000 tickets were released April 3 for visits in July, they were all claimed in just over two hours.

The next batch of reserve-ahead tickets will be released Wednesday at 9 a.m., and a similar demand is expected. “We thought the numbers would abate but they have not,” said the museum’s deputy director, Kinshasha Holman Conwill.

In addition, she said, the museum’s “dwell time is off the charts.” Typically, people spend 45 minutes to two hours visiting a museum, but “many of our visitors spend four to six hours. Then they say, `There’s no way I can see this in one day, I’m coming back.”’

Abby Kavner, a UCLA professor, got her same-day tickets on an April trip to Washington by going online exactly at 6:30 a.m. and pressing “buttons like a maniac” until she got through. It “felt like I won the lottery,” she recalled.

The 300 same-day walk-up passes handed out onsite each day at 1 p.m. also usually disappear within 15 minutes.

The museum has suspended accepting new requests for group tours because of a backlog. More than 25,000 group tour requests have been processed, but another 30,000 requests were pending as of Feb. 28.

Attendance from the museum’s Sept. 24 opening through April was expected to exceed 1.5 million once all data is compiled. Projections suggested the museum would get between 1.7 million and 2.6 million visitors during its first year.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Linda St. Thomas, spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, which has 19 museums and galleries under its auspices. “We knew it was going to be very popular because of the subject and its location at the foot of the Washington Monument. But interest has not dwindled. We are still at capacity almost every day.”

Intense interest by the public in a new Smithsonian museum is not entirely unprecedented, however. When the National Museum of the American Indian opened 12 years ago, that museum had 2 million visitors in its first year of operation.

And just as with other tickets, there is a secondary online market for those willing to pay a premium, though there’s always the risk of being scammed with a counterfeit ticket. The free museum tickets are typically resold for $15 to $20.

Conwill said the reselling of free tickets “breaks our heart,” but the Smithsonian can’t control it.

The American Alliance of Museums also announced on Monday that it was honoring the Museum of African American History with its Chair’s Leadership Award, which the alliance said “is not presented annually” but is “reserved for the rare occasion of outstanding leadership and extraordinary accomplishments.” Alliance CEO Laura Lott said the demand for the museum’s tickets is “phenomenal, but not surprising, given their outstanding programs, exhibitions and focus on the visitor experience. A lot of people waited a very long time – decades – to see this museum become a reality on our national mall.”