Dressing Downton exhibit a boon for Paine, community - October 23 2015

Grant, sponsor support key to record visitors at historic mansion

OSHKOSH, WI -- As Event City, Oshkosh draws 1 million people each year with rock bands, country music, vintage warbirds and experimental airplanes and festival fun.

Photo caption
Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times, an exhibition at the Paine Art Center and Gardens, included 36 period costumes and a fashion overview from the first four seasons of the acclaimed PBS Masterpiece series "Downton Abbey." The exhibition drew a record number of visitors to the Paine during its 13-week run that ended last month.
Photo courtesy of Paine Art Center and Gardens

This summer, a museum exhibition featuring costumes from an acclaimed PBS television series tapped a new event audience that resulted in record visitors at one venue and had a ripple effect on businesses throughout the community.

The exhibition, Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times at the Paine Art Center and Gardens, drew 26,800 visitors during its 13-week run that ended in September. The museum's previous record attendance was set in 2006 with a Tiffany lamp exhibition, which drew 19,700 visitors.

Aaron Sherer, executive director, says the mansion's architecture and d├ęcor along with the time period of the fashions in the exhibition were "a match made in heaven."

"The costumes perfectly fit the time period and style of the historic Paine mansion," Sherer says. "Guests raved about how ideal the combination was."

The popularity of the TV show drove attendance. A $28,000 Wisconsin Department of Tourism grant helped promote the show throughout the state and into the Chicago and Minneapolis areas.

Sherer says sponsorship support was critical to the Paine bringing the exhibition to Oshkosh and promoting it, with major support from Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co.

A Community Arts Grant from the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation helped support educational aspects of the exhibition, including hands-on activities in the Family Discovery Gallery, an audio guide for adult visitors, a resource area and lectures by UW Oshkosh faculty.

Nearly 70 percent of visitors said their primary reason for being in Oshkosh was to see the exhibition, Sherer says. That means the show drew 18,000 tourists here, and equated to more than $1 million in visitor spending throughout the community.

Wendy Hielsberg, executive director of the Oshkosh Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the exhibition not only brought new visitors to the city, but also reacquainted local residents with the landmark.

"Dressing Downton attracted people who wouldn't typically come to Oshkosh for an event," says Hielsberg. "The results were amazing for those businesses that normally wouldn't see an influx of customers from events."

The OCVB capitalized on the niche audience by supplying each Paine visitor with a brochure promoting local activities of interest to women - which were the primary visitors - including shopping, riverfront dining, spa, wine and recreation.

Support of the exhibition was one of 13 Community Arts grants totaling $43,500 to be awarded this year.

Community Arts grants are supported by the Fund for the Arts, Arts in Our Daily Lives Fund and the Margaret Tabbert Fund, with additional support from the Wisconsin Arts Board. The following organizations received funding for programming through 2016:

Green Lake Festival of Music
Support for free, family concerts in Oshkosh combining the narrated story of "Peter and the Wolf" with live music.

Hysterical Productions
Support for the local performance of the musical "Into the Woods."

Jazz Corner Society
Support for performances at Fox Jazz Festival, which was held Sept. 5 and 6 in Menasha.

Support for the performance of "Elf Jr.", a rendition of the classic Christmas movie "Elf," featuring local students.

Opera for the Young
Support for performances of "The Magic Flute" for children in Winnebago County elementary schools.

Oshkosh Chamber Singers
Support for the paid orchestra and soloists for the 2016 spring concert.

Oshkosh Choraliers
Support for music, lighting and sound and guest artists expenses of the May 7, 2016, spring concert.

Oshkosh Opera House Foundation
Support for a residency for classic pianist Alpin Hong and outreach efforts geared to under-served audiences in non-traditional venues.

Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra
Support for the Midwest premiere of the "American Harmony," a symphony composed by local musician John Harmon.

Paine Art Center and Gardens
Support for educational programs and outreach activities complementing the Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times exhibition.

Thrasher Opera House Corp.
Support for a series of performances and events as part of the Opera House's 2015-16 season.

VSA Arts of Wisconsin Inc.
Support for the VSA Choir of Oshkosh, which helps adults with disabilities develop musical skills and perform public concerts.

Youth Go
Support for a photography program that allows children in fifth through 12th grade to photograph favorite places in their community and display their images at the Menasha and Neenah farmers markets.

The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization created by and for the people of Winnebago County, Waushara County, Green Lake County and Ripon. Through charitable giving, the Community Foundation strives to make our communities thrive. For more information, please call 920-426-3993.


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