Belfast's new £18m arts centre has seen an incredible 173,000 visitors since it opened in April —virtually double the number management had expected.
The MAC — Metropolitan Arts Centre — in the city’s Cathedral Quarter is proving that its nickname ‘big MAC’ is well earned.
Management had originally projected there would be 170,000 visitors in the first year, but the footfall target has been reached in almost half that time.
Footfall measures the number of punters coming through the doors to enjoy the range of exhibitions and shows on offer, as well as the MAC’s excellent canteen, rather than the number of tickets sold.
The landmark attraction has successfully shown how the arts — a sector that traditionally suffers disproportionately in a downturn — is capable of paying its way in the tough economic climate.
The MAC’s management are obviously pleased their target has been reached well ahead of schedule. “We’re delighted, we’ve been open 28 weeks and have already had 173,000 people through the doors ahead of schedule,” said CEO Anne McReynolds.
The stylish building, designed by Hackett Hall McKnight, sports a slightly South Bank London feel and features witty leaf-imprinted concrete.
In the first four months alone, a massive 100,000 thronged to see what it had to offer. This compares favourably with approximately 128,000 people who attended shows, conferences and creative learning sessions at the refurbished Lyric Theatre in its first year of operation at its new premises beside the River Lagan.
In terms of box office, the MAC has enjoyed sell-outs with several shows, including Bruiser’s production of Sweet Charity, Straight To DVD by Pony Dance and all the Moving On music events.
Silent, one of the must-see pieces of theatre during the recent Northern Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s, also did well.
The most popular show — after the big opening LS Lowry and William Conor exhibition, A People Observed — was American sculptor Robert Therrien’s Table And Four Chairs.
His huge table and chairs mesmerised children and adults alike. According to a spokeswoman, it was easily the most photographed item in the MAC.
“People shared photos of themselves standing next to it, and it went viral online,” she said.
l The centre employs 20 full-time staff and showcases local and international art, theatre, music and dance.
l There are three galleries, two theatres, one rehearsal space and a dance studio.
l The canteen is shortlisted for the Belfast Business Awards in the Best Hospitality Business category.
l Around 100 volunteers help with meeting and greeting and facilitating events.