Adler Planetarium counts 500,000th visitor, a big jump in attendance

Adler Planetarium has topped 500,000 annual visitors for the first time since 1993, the lakefront space museum crowed in a news release Tuesday.

Running about 22 percent ahead of 2014 in attendance, the Adler achieved the half-million mark Nov. 30, with a month left in the year, including the busy Christmas vacation week.

The museum is touting revamped exhibits, including the new “Mission Moon,” and a new management team as the reason for the attendance growth. Michelle Larson took over as the Adler president almost three years ago and has put in place new senior management.

But another key, said Marc Lapides, chief marketing and development officer, was the museum’s “Space Is Freaking Awesome” advertising campaign that began running in June. It was the first ad buy in some time that touted the overall planetarium experience, rather than a specific show or exhibit, he said.

“I think the marketing campaign in a lot of ways opened people’s eyes to the Adler,” he said, “but the overall improved experience really sealed the deal.”

The attendance increase is likely to be among the largest, if not the largest, year-to-year gain among the area’s leading museums and nature parks. Adler ranks 9th in overall attendance, well behind Morton Arboretum (920,000 in 2014) and Chicago Botanic Garden (1.06 million) at Nos. 8 and 7. It is part of Chicago’s Museum Campus with the Shedd Aquarium (No. 3 with 1.81 million) and the Field Museum (No. 6 with 1.23 million). The free Lincoln Park Zoo is tops (with 3.35 million).

The last time the 500,000 mark was beaten at the Adler was the year the museum went from free to charging admission — in June 1993. Some proportion of the people who came through the turnstiles back then were just there to use the bathrooms, previous President Paul Knappenberger told the Tribune in an interview during his tenure.

December 1, 2015 - Chicago Tribune / by Steve Johnson | view the article >