Tut the Tentpole is coming.
With showbiz heavyweights from Phil Anschutz to Clear Channel entering the arena of high-profile "event" exhibits, the museum biz is moving headlong into corporate territory.
Look for the boy king on the Staples Center jumbotron, in trailers at Regal Cinemas and throughout the Anschutz empire this year.
The elusive billionaire has put tens of millions of dollars into the touring Tut exhibit, which begins at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in June. Stops in Philadelphia, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale and London are also planned.
Anschutz isn't the only company stomping into the museum biz and encroaching on turf once dominated by non-profits. Outsiders are crashing the party on two fronts:
One is the for-profit touring exhibit industry, which includes AEG, Arts & Exhibitions (a partner on Tut and producer of "Diana, A Celebration") and Clear Channel, which tours several exhibits, such as the Cheech Marin-produced "Chicano Visions" and "Chicano Now."
"We do sporting events, we do rock concerts, we do Broadway shows -- this just naturally falls into place with all that," says John Meglen, prexy and co-CEO of Concerts West, a division of AEG Live.
The other is a growing crop of for-profit museums, such as the Intl. Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Sex in Gotham, the Olympic Spirit museum in Toronto, and Gotham's planned National Sports Museum.
The original King Tut exhibit, which toured seven cities from 1976 to 1979, ushered in the era of the blockbuster exhibit, attracting some 8 million visitors.
This time around, organizers -- the Egyptian government, Arts & Exhibitions and National Geographic -- are partnered with Anschutz Entertainment. With a top price of $30, the show has already sold 100,000 tickets in L.A. and hopes to reach 1 million admissions in that city alone. More than half the gross goes to the Egyptian government, with AEG and other organizers splitting the remaining pot.
In addition to ad spots at Regal Cinemas and the Staples Center, AEG plans to use Internet marketing -- teaming with Tut web sites and advertising on search engines -- much as it did to promote its Celine Dion concerts in Las Vegas.
Such aggressive promotional techniques, for-profit execs argue, give them a leg up on cautious non-profits.
Dennis Barrie, prexy of the Malrite Company, which owns the for-profit Spy Museum, was previously prexy of the non-profit Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. He says the Hall's management structure hindered it from making marketing deals early on.
"In the structure of a not-for profit, where you have a board and multiple decision makers and multiple factors in decision making, you can't make the decision in a timely manner," he says. "In a for-profit you can do just that. You can say 'OK, we're gonna do a deal with MTV or Discovery.' "
But critics lament that for-profit exhibits and museums sacrifice serious scholarship for crowd-friendly gimmickry.
Indeed, the "Diana" exhibit includes designer dresses and the original lyrics to Elton John's Princess Diana theme "Candle in the Wind" -- Picassos they ain't. The Olympic Spirit museum is more focused on gadgets such as a "biathlon interactive" -- a shoot-em-up videogame-slash-NordicTrack -- than actual information.
American Assn. of Museums prexy Edward Able says for-profit museums don't even merit the name "museum."
"I would call them a 'cabinet of curiosities,' " he says.
But non-profits are far from pure.
The Guggenheim has been a magnet for criticism since setting up splashy outlets in Bilbao, Spain and Las Vegas and creating exhibits of motorcycles and Armani suits. Last year, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts infamously rented out 21 Monets to the museum at the Bellagio hotel-casino.
The rise of competing entertainment options like videogames, DVDs, DVRs and iPods has made non-profit museums desperate for visitors. Many have resorted to building fancy digs and forging uneasy corporate alliances. "Everyone wants their Frank Gehry, they want their Guggenheim Bilbao," says Elizabeth Casale, a museum consultant. "The increased expectations and increased costs of running a museum are forcing management to try to think more businesslike and cozy up to commercial forces and find new ways to pay for it all.”
Enter King Tut on the Staples Center jumbotron.