When some people think of quilts, images of colorful bed coverings at grandma's house come to mind.
When Frank Bennett thinks of quilts, he sees an art form that helps drive the region's economic engine and "brings the world" to Paducah.
It's not that he has anything against grandmotherly memories. But in his position as CEO of the National Quilt Museum, Bennett sees another side of the quilt conversation.
Attendance at the museum, the largest of its kind in the country, has grown steadily during Bennett's three-year tenure: 5.6 percent in fiscal year 2012, 8.1 percent in 2013 and 11.7 percent in the just-ended fiscal 2014.
While the focus on the museum is heavy in April, during the week-long show and competition sponsored by the American Quilter's Society, the museum is a steady draw attracting over 40,000 local, regional, national and international visitors the year round. Last month alone, the museum drew visitors from 45 states and 11 countries.
Those visitors mean revenue.
"We have an international destination art museum that, every single day all year long, brings people into our community," Bennett said. "And, while they're here, they spend the night in a hotel, buy gas, eat several meals and visit local shops ... that benefits everybody."
With an estimated 90 percent of the annual visitors being from out of town, if the average visitor to the museum spends between $250-$500 on the above-mentioned four things, the potential economic benefit would range between $9 million and $18 million annually.
Regardless of the multiplier used, the potential impact is huge, according to Bennett.
"In general, the more tourism dollars that come into the economy, the less we have to pay in taxes," Bennett said. "That's the win-win."
The American Quilter's Society does not fund the museum; its revenue comes from gift shop sales, admissions and donors.
The 500 quilts which make up the museum's collection are works of art, created by artists who happen to work in fabric. Patrons of the museum are not just quilt lovers, but cultural tourists interested in art, Bennett said.
Like any art form, the creations reflect the artist's style, interests and vision. Outside of the pieces of art encompassing three layers, a front, back and padding in the middle, "there are no rules ... it's just art," Bennett said.
Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.
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