Tit for Tut Cultural Politics: How Harry Parker Brought Pompeii to Dallas

Tit for Tut Cultural Politics: How Harry Parker Brought Pompeii to Dallas

All NEH grants are matching grants. In this case, Xerox Corporation agreed to underwrite the transportation and most of the educational aspects of the show. Xerox also happens to have a major facility in Dallas – not a decisive factor, says Parker, but obviously one that made Dallas look a bit more attractive than, let’s say, Kansas City or Denver.

Another key factor, oddly enough, was the DMFA’s failure to secure King Tut. Shows like Tut and “Pompeii AD 79” are obviously plums that the government is obliged to distribute as widely as possible. Except for New York and maybe Washington, cities that get one are unlikely to get the other. (Both Los Angeles and San Francisco got King Tut; neither will get “Pompeii AD 79.” The Chicago Art Institute will get Pompeii at least partly in compensation for losing Tut to the Field Museum of Chicago.)

The DM FA made a bid for Tut in 1974, but the New Orleans Museum had a few trump cards. Director John Bullard had previously worked at the National Gallery in Washington and therefore knew key State Department officials. Furthermore, every New Orleans contractor and businessman who had ever done business in Egypt was prodded to write letters to Washington and Cairo extolling the virtues of his hometown, even though many observers had doubts about it as a suitable site. The DMFA, nevertheless, conducted an aggressive campaign for Tut and thereby put itself in the running for the next major show to come along. That Pompeii should come along just as the museum is embarking on a major expansion is simply a happy coincidence.

The Dallas show will be the third stop on the Pompeii tour, running from January 2 to March 19, 1979. Museum spokesmen are predicting attendance in excess of 300,000, more than double that of the enormously successful Calder show last year. The NEH and Xerox will cover the major expenses in getting “Pompeii AD 79” to Dallas, but the museum must still come up with roughly $250,000 to pay for the construction of a garden portico and fresco room, cases for the more than 300 silver and gold objects, and salaries for additional security and service personnel. Harry Parker says he has no plans to ask the Board of Trustees for money to cover these expenses.

He likely won’t need to. The museum will instead bank on revenues from the sale of catalogues and souvenirs, group fees, and the anticipated surge in museum membership. After all, King Tut’s visit to New Orleans generated more revenue than the Super Bowl and the Sugar Bowl combined, a fact not lost on Harry Parker. Or the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

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