For what was a first-time effort to market the botanical attraction as an open-air museum, garden visitation mushroomed from 200,000 to 425,000 in 2004, and memberships rose from 12,000 to 19,000 households.
The eyepatch-wearing artist, now 74, appears to have more drawing power than ever.
Last year, a Chihuly show was the main factor in the Denver Botanic Gardens attracting 1.4 million guests, making it the most-visited public garden in North America for 2014.
Matheson said that members and other guests never stopped asking for an Atlanta encore, which she acknowledged she has pursued for six or seven years.
Plans call for Chihuly’s kaleidoscopic colors to be displayed throughout the grounds, including in Storza Woods, where additional gardens and connecting walkways opened last spring, and inside Fuqua Conservatory and Fuqua Orchid Center.
Every Chihuly exhibit is designed to be site-specific, and roughly a third of “Chihuly in the Garden” is being created uniquely for Atlanta. The works will be on view amid plantings, floating in pools and suspended in air.
Highlights promise to include the chartreuse Hornet Chandelier suspended from the Canopy Walk, hovering over bright purple reeds and other plantings rising from the forest floor, and, rising at one end of the Water Mirror pool nearby, the 30-foot-tall neon Saffron Tower.
The garden plans to be open five nights a week, with Chihuly’s glass bathed in light. A separate admission charge has yet to be determined.
The garden’s record for annual attendance — 523,000, set in 2013 — could be at risk.
“I think there’s a quality to Dale’s exhibitions that you don’t see in a lot of art,” Matheson said, attempting to explain the public’s attraction to it. “It’s almost magnetizing. It’s charismatic. It’s spectacularly beautiful, particularly in an outdoor setting. He understands scale and color and the juxtaposition of glass and nature in a way that few artists do.”