In tough economic times many households are tightening their belts, but that doesn’t mean attendance at local attractions is feeling the pinch.
The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, Adventure Science Center and Cheekwood Museum of Art all have seen an increase in daily attendance in recent years.
A record 615,086 guests, many with their own little animals in tow, visited the zoo in 2009. That number — the highest in zoo history — was up 16 percent from the previous year.
Zoo President Rick Schwartz attributed the attendance increase to several factors, including new animal additions, great weather and an economy that kept families close to home.
“The addition of some new animals definitely helped jump-start our 2009 season,” Schwartz said. “In March, we introduced white tiger cubs, eight zebras and a pair of giant anteaters over a three-week period leading up to and including spring break. We were successful with the birth of three clouded leopard cubs over the summer and were able to present those to our guests through the fall.”
Adventure Science Center, once a facility focusing entirely on children, reached for the stars and found universal appeal with two recent additions — the new Sudekum Planetarium and Space Chase exhibit. CEO Susan Duvenhage said the Nashville community has been very supportive of the $21 million improvements that help make the vast unknown of outer space known to visitors.
“In the first year after the opening [of the new exhibits in 2008], our attendance jumped 40 percent, and more than 140,000 people visited the Judith Payne Turner Theater of the Sudekum Planetarium,” she said.
Attendance totals are not available for 2009-2010 because they follow a July to June calendar.
An ‘eggstravant’ attraction in west Nashville, Cheekwood Museum of Art and Botanical Gardens was the only local attraction polled that reported a slight downturn in overall attendance during 2009.
But Marketing Manager Claire Brick Corby said that 1 percent attendance dip stems from a decrease in facility rentals rather than in daily paid attendance which was up 20 percent.
Cheekwood includes both rental and paid daily attendance in their totals.
“We had fewer corporate rentals and the weddings we’ve had were smaller weddings with fewer attendees,” she said, noting the economy likely weighed in to downturn in rentals. “We were really thrilled with just a 1 percent decrease.”
Cheekwood had experienced a pretty significant attendance increase  in recent years with the very successful “How do you like your Eggs?” marketing campaign for the Faberge exhibit among others.
Corby said the economy took a toll not only on facility rentals but on donations too. The marketing budget took a hit, but with a little creativity they were able to find donors to fill in the gaps.
“We attribute that [small decrease] to a lot of promotions,” she said. “We had to get creative.”
They are also getting creative to keep people coming in 2010. During the month of January admission is only 50 cents per person — a throwback to the original cost of admission when the mansion opened 50 years ago.
“We have some big exhibitions coming this year for the 50th anniversary,” she said.
“American Impressionists in the Garden,” an exhibit assembled by Cheekwood curators, will debut in March with more than 40 paintings depicting European and American gardens by American Impressionists. The exhibit will travel to two other museums in the southeast when it leaves Nashville in September.
Another mind-blowing, er, glass-blowing exhibit that is expected be a major draw this year is “Chihuly at Cheekwood,” featuring hand-blown glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly. Thousands of pieces will be spread through the gardens and ponds of Cheekwood, Corby said. A companion exhibit will be on display at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
For those who aren’t interested in intricate eggs or exotic glass, the Nashville Zoo will offer an exotic animal that lays eggs.
Set to open in late spring, a new Caribbean flamingo exhibit will keep visitors tickled pink in 2010. The new area will not only add a beautiful and popular species to the animal collection, but the habitat will include improvements to the overall water quality throughout the park.
The Frist Center for the Visual Arts did not respond in time to be included in this article.