The Gibbes Museum of Art is attracting more than twice as many visitors since its renovation.

Angela Mack, executive director, reported the increase last week at the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s monthly board meeting. About two-thirds of the visitors to the Meeting Street attraction are from out of state. And among the South Carolina patrons, more than a quarter live outside the Charleston region.

“It’s gratifying to see the diversity of the visitors we are attracting,” Mack said.

The museum at 135 Meeting St., between Queen Street and Horlbeck Alley, closed in October 2014 and reopened this past May. About 13,000 paid visitors have been counted since the spring reopening.

Part of the increase is probably because Charleston is drawing more visitors with its increasing reputation as a tourist destination, Mack acknowledged. Conde Nast Traveler has named Charleston the No. 1 tourist destination in the country for the last five years in a row. Travel + Leisure recently named Charleston the No. 1 city in the world. At least partly as a result, the number of visitors swelled from 4.22 million in 2010 to 5.15 million last year, a 22 percent jump, according to the College of Charleston’s Office of Tourism Analysis.

But Mack also says publicity about the changes at the Gibbes has brought in more visitors.

“In the museum world, the Gibbes has a very wonderful reputation, particularly in the art museum world,” she said, adding that the museum was the first place Solomon R. Guggenheim displayed his collection of modern art in 1936. “I think there was an anticipation about this for quite some time.”

A new Guggenheim exhibit opens at the Gibbes on Oct. 22 and runs through January.

The museum’s original 1905 design was located in the city’s archives. The exterior was cleaned, trees cut back and a wrought-iron fence that was not original removed to make the building more approachable. Small globes on either side of the steps were replaced with bigger ones that matched the originals.

The changes inside are just as dramatic. Shabby carpet that covered the mosaic tile floors was removed. Paint was stripped from the Georgia oak window casings in the second-floor rotunda. The Tiffany-style dome was cleaned to let in more light.

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.


“What people seem to react to immediately is the beauty of the architecture,” Mack said. “It was not a very exciting space, especially as a temple for the arts.”

A significant change that has added to the museum’s bottom line is the expansion of the garden and patio. Charleston has always been a popular wedding destination, and now the Gibbes is getting its share. The garden has been the site of five weddings since it reopened.

“This is our cash cow,” Mack said. “This is how we earn money, in addition to ticket sales.”

A cafe on the first floor is expected to open by the end of the year, possibly next month.

Reach Dave Munday at 843-937-5553.