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Art lovers are flocking to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts first-ever blockbuster exhibit, officials say, claiming the show has "energized and changed" the institution.

By measures of foot traffic and ticket revenues, the "Monet to Picasso" exhibit appears nearly on track to hit the museum's goal of 50,000 visitors in the 12-week run, or about 600 people per day.

As of Tuesday, after the show's fourth week, the exhibit had attracted 14,551 visitors, or an average of 520 patrons per day.

Better yet, foot traffic seems to be increasing over the course of the exhibit. Last week, the average number of patrons hit 614 per day, said Gretchen Dietrich, the museum's director of public programs and curatorial affairs.

Those numbers are especially promising considering the declining economy and high gasoline prices, as well as the distraction of hot summer days, said Tal Harry, of Richter 7, the public relations firm contracted by the museum for its advertising campaign.

A more unexpected measure of the exhibit's success, perhaps, is the number of new museum members signing up each month, which has almost quadrupled since March. From July 1-21, the museum attracted 173 new members, at a cost of $15 for students and up to $100 for patrons.

That's significant in showing how the exhibit has increased community support for the museum. So far, the museum has invested $400,000 to advertise the exhibit locally and regionally. When revenue figures are tallied in October, the museum and its advertising team are required to submit a report to funders - including the state of Utah - providing an analysis of its marketing efforts, Harry said.

Museum director David Dee led fundraising efforts that netted $1.35 million to bring the $2.2 million exhibit to town. To offset the rest, officials set admission fees at $15 and are also raising money from private funders.

Some museum officials worried that the price would be off-putting to some visits, but so far the fee doesn't appear to be a significant issue. "There are 74 artworks in the show, which translates to visitors paying about 21 cents to view each piece," according to Dietrich's take on the relative value of the admission fee. "I mean, how much would you pay to be able to stand in front of an amazing [painting by] Dali or Picasso?" she said.

Maybe the best sign of success comes from eavesdropping on excited museumgoers, Deitrich said. She and other officials are thrilled to be overhearing conversations in foreign languages, and are responding to more requests for audio tours in Spanish and Japanese.

If you go

Marcia and John Price Museum Building, 410 Campus Center Drive, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City; 801-581-7332.

General admission for the Utah Museum of Fine Arts regular exhibits:

* Adults: $5

* Youths (6-18): $3

* Seniors: $3

* Students: $3

* Members, U. staff, faculty and students: free

Admission for "Monet to Picasso" exhibit:

* UMFA members: free

* Adults: $15

* Youths (6-18): $10

* Children under 6: free

* Seniors: $10

* Members, U. staff, faculty and students: $10

Today on KUER's Radio West

Jennifer Napier-Pearce talks to curator William Robinson and to art historian Richard Brettell about the Utah Museum of Fine Arts' "Monet to Picasso" exhibit. Airs at 11 a.m. on 90.1 FM

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