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Top 20 North American Museums by Attendance (2015)


The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and AECOM published the TEA/AECOM 2015 Theme Index: Global Attractions Attendance Report, a study of attendance at the world's most visited theme parks, amusement parks, waterparks and museums.

Museums are mission-driven organizations and beacons of culture, arts, history, science, education, and entertainment. But they serve a changed and changing world. North America is a stable, mature market, and fluctuations in museum attendance tend to be driven by popular temporary exhibits. Earned revenue is increasingly important to the U.S. market, as it copes with declines in government funding.

The democratization of technology has led to a prevalence of entertainment and information available in people’s homes. Having vast amounts of entertainment and information available electronically at a touch are things Millennials and today’s children take for granted. Even art and history museums are embracing technology and learning to position themselves more as attractions, competing for people’s discretionary time and money and finding new ways to explore their collections and bring them to life.

Adult events are a very significant trend that can account for up to 10% to 15% of total attendance at some museums in the U.S. In the past these have been seen as ancillary but now they have become core programming, an integral part of attendance and a valuable stream of earned revenue — expanding the museum’s hours, the guest experience and the audiences.

These events typically include access to all the galleries, displays and exhibits just as in daytime hours, complete with resident experts and docents to talk to, but enhanced with entertainment, refreshment, music, special activities.

Examples include the weekly Nightlife gatherings at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco; Adult Sleepovers at AMNH in New York City, Cheap Date Night at the McDonnell Planetarium in Saint Louis, Adults Only Night at TELUS Spark in Calgary, Canada; Audubon Institute’s Summer of Sustainability Seafood Dinner Series in New Orleans.

Bottom line: What it means to visit a museum is changing.

The Top 20 Museums in North America are:

Top 20 Museums in North America
Museum, Location
Change 2015 2014
National Museum of Natural History,
Washington, DC, USA
-5.5% 6,900,000 7,300,000
National Air and Space Museum,
Washington, DC, USA
3.0% 6,900,000 6,700,000
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York, NY, USA
1.6% 6,300,000 6,200,000
American Museum of Natural History,
New York, NY, USA
0.0% 5,000,000 5,000,000
5 National Gallery of Art,
Washington DC, USA
5.4% 4,104,000 3,892,000 Free
National Museum of American History,
Washington, DC, USA
2.5% 4,100,000 4,000,000
Museum of Modern Art,
New York, NY, USA
-0.3% 3,010,000 3,020,000
California Science Center,
Los Angeles, CA, USA
0.0% 2,630,000 2,630,000
Houston Museum of Natural Science,
Houston, TX, USA
-3.2% 2,295,000 2,372,000
10 Denver Museum of Nature & Science,
Denver, CO, USA
18.9% 1,700,000 1,430,000 Paid
11 Udar-Hazy Center,
Washington, DC, USA
23.1% 1,600,000 1,300,000 Free
U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,
Washington, DC, USA
2.3% 1,600,000 1,564,000 Paid
13 The J. Paul Getty Museum,
Los Angeles, CA, USA
9.6% 1,580,000 1,441,000 Free
The Art Institute of Chicago,
Chicago, IL, USA
10.7% 1,550,000 1,400,000
15 Museum of Science and Industry,
Chicago, IL, USA
7.1% 1,500,000 1,400,000 Paid
16 California Academy of Sciences,
San Francisco, CA, USA
0.0% 1,400,000 1,400,000
17 Field Museum of Natural History,
Chicago, IL, USA
12.4% 1,382,000 1,229,000 Paid
18 Museum of Science,
Boston, MA, USA
-4.6% 1,380,000 1,446,000
Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, Washington, DC
18.2% 1,300,000 1,100,000
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis,
Indianapolis, IN, USA
3.3% 1,250,000 1,210,000
2.6% 57,481,000 53,514,000

Source: TEA/AECOM 2015 Theme Index: Global Attractions Attendance Report

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