Chihuly in the Garden
In 2004, Mary Pat Matheson, Garden President & CEO, secured the most prestigious exhibit in the Garden's history, Chihuly in the Garden. An exhibition of original glass sculptures by internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly were on display at the Garden from May - October, with an extended run through December. The nine-month blockbuster exhibition, sponsored by Target Stores, brought the Garden to the forefront of cultural tourism in the Southeast.
The exhibition presented Chihuly's stunning glass sculptures within the Garden's lush botanical setting. Hailed as Atlanta's cultural event of the year, Chihuly in the Garden wove together art and nature. The majesty of Dale Chihuly's glass was showcased with the inspiring plant collections of the Garden.
"Chihuly in the Garden startled visitor expectations, stretched their imaginations and offered a new way of experiencing plants and art," Matheson said. As a result of the exhibition's success, Matheson hosted delegations from Kew Gardens in London, Detroit Botanical Garden, Denver Botanic Gardens and New York Botanical Garden, fielding their questions about staging Chihuly in those public gardens.
One of the sculptures, the Nepenthes Chandelier, remains a permanent legacy of the exhibition. Inspired by the Garden's tropical carnivorous pitcher plant collection, it was generously donated by David J. Tufts. Nepenthes hangs in the Hardin Visitor Center and is a memorial to David Tufts' partner, Jefferson I. Lewis, a Chihuly collector.
Matheson's farsighted vision of bringing the work of this internationally renowned glass sculptor to Atlanta paid off handsomely. Garden visitation in 2004 more than doubled to 425,000; Gift Shop sales were up 400 percent after selling 70 studio pieces, and membership was at an all-time high for the Atlanta Botanical Garden, with 19,000 member households. Chihuly Nights extended Garden hours every Tuesday evening, with dinner and wine available for purchase. A video documentary about Chihuly in the Garden was produced by WSB-TV and ran continuously in the Exhibit Hall, and audio tours were available for visitors.
The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau has publicly recognized this achievement, and estimated the Chihuly in the Garden exhibition brought in $50-$60 million and approximately 1,000 hotel-nights to the City of Atlanta during its nine-month run. "This is a conservative estimate, based on the formula for computing economic impact that is endorsed by the Travel Industry Association of America," said ACVB representatives.