The recession has been hitting everyone hard, even the museums are being hit in their wallets. From the MOCA needing a bail out to the Rose Art Museum selling off their collection, museums seem to be dealing with declining attendance and many have been forced to reduce payroll or take mandatory staff furloughs to make ends meet.

Yet there’s a silver lining to every situation. Some museums have found ways to boost attendance by tapping into alternative “non-traditional” art forms. Museum mainstays such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Picasso are making way for artists such as Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Jeff Soto and Todd Schorr. Four such museums have taken a chance this summer on alternative “Pop Surrealist” and “Urban” genres for which they have reaped the reward of record-breaking attendance by appealing to the non-traditional museum goer.

Check out the four shows after the jump…

For the ICA, the Shepard Fairey Retrospective (covered) was an astounding success. Showcasing the renowned urban/graphic artist with a 20 year retrospective was looked upon as a dicey proposition before the curtains came up in February. But by the July, over 100,000 people have walk through the door to experience the man that made Obama’s iconic image – by far shattering the attendance of any show in ICA’s 73 year history and making it the most attended exhibition of any contemporary museum this year (Boston Globe).

For the San Jose Museum of Art, curator Susan Landauer went with master “Pop-Surrealist” Todd Schorr (interviewed) and his retrospective entitled “American Surreal” (covered). Again, numerous questions were raised about traditional and mainstream appeal, but by opening night, a crowd of thousands was on hand to catch a glimpse of their favorite pop-icons re-imagined through Todd’s brush. The July 16th opening was the largest single attendance the SJMA has ever had as well as generating the biggest enrollment of new members to the museum ever.

Riverside native Jeff Soto (interviewed) opened his first museum show (covered) at the Riverside Art Museum earlier this year. Again, attendance was impressive with good traffic for the duration of the show and to all the associated activities. In fact, the closing date was extended to accommodate all the visitors.

Finally, we cross the pond to the Bristol, where the local city museum eviscerated attendance records with the Banksy show (covered). Since the show opened it June, over 300,000 visitors have swarmed the Bristol Museum to catch the works of the anonymous street artist (The Guardian). On the last few days, the lines were still over 4 hours long to get into the museum!

Judging from the recent results, it may pay for traditional museum to go with the non-traditional approach and finally give some credence to some artists that the mainstream has long ignored. Hopefully, AM will be visiting and covering more and more of these shows in the future…