A major exhibition of works by Edgar Degas smashed attendance records at the Memorial Art Gallery. The exhibit, “Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion,” attracted more than 71,000 visitors during its 12-week run at the gallery, eclipsing the previous record of 61,000 set in 2000 by an exhibit of the works of Maxfield Parrish.

“It is a proud moment for Rochester, the Memorial Art Gallery and for the University of Rochester,” the MAG’s marketing and communications director Deborah Rothman said.

The exhibition, which opened at the MAG Oct. 13, showcased 73 bronze sculptures — one of only four complete sets in existence — from the Museu de Arte in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In Rochester, the sculptures were complemented by a selection of paintings, pastels and prints from several collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Clark Institute.

The demand for tickets was so strong that MAG extended its hours in the final two weeks.

MAG visitor surveys indicated that the exhibition, which was the most ambitious and expensive in the gallery’s history, was a huge success.

“We took a huge risk and it paid off,” Rothman said.

The gallery drew a huge percentage of first-time visitors — 20 percent — most of who indicated on surveys they planned to make future visits to the gallery.

Of the 71,000 visitors, about 3,000 of them came from area colleges, 11,000 on high school and elementary school tours and 6,500 came for various corporate events.

The gallery’s risk also paid huge economic benefits for Rochester as the exibit attracted more than 28 percent of its visitors from outside the area.

Rothman estimates this added more than $2 million to the local economy.

“There was a question whether Rochester could sustain a show of this magnitude,” Rothman said. “The answer after this exhibit is that indeed it can.”

The exhibit’s success is particularly remarkable given that attendence at galleries nationwide this season is down 20 percent from the year before. Rothman attributes the decline to the poor economy.

The MAG was the only East Coast venue for the exhibition, whose international tour includes stops in Mexico City and San Diego.

The next exhibit to grace the walls and floors of the MAG’s Grand Gallery will be showcasing the work of George Bellows and will open April 13. Bellows is believed by many to be the greatest American artist of the early 20th century. To learn more about the exhibit and the MAG, visit http://www.mag.rochester.edu.

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