Give the gift of data…
Do you know how your museum’s audience has changed? Are you reaching more people from lower socio-economic groups? Are your visitors older or younger? Are you engaging with more people from minority-ethnic backgrounds? If you know any of these things, I want to hear from you!
After around twenty years of effort to broaden London’s museum and gallery audiences, have we made a difference? We know numbers are up – last year 57% of Londoners visited a museum, up from 50% in 2006. But how has the profile of those visitors changed? Is it more of the same people, or are we reaching a more diverse range of Londoners? How does experience vary between museums? And, most importantly, is it possible to determine what things are most likely to widen audiences?
For the next year or so, I’m based (very part-time) in the Department of Management at King’s College London investigating how London’s museum audiences have changed. I’m funded as part of Creativeworks London http://www.creativeworkslondon.org.uk , a ‘knowledge-exchange hub’ forging links between higher education researchers and the cultural and creative industries.
I hope to find out three things
How the demographics of audiences for London museums have changed
The different experiences of London museums in terms of the changing demographics of their audiences
The factors that affected the demographics of audiences for different museums; in particular, the actions that are most likely to broaden the demographics of a London museum’s audience
If the research works it will achieve two things. First, it will show, authoritatively, how successful museums have been at widening audiences. This will help museums make their case to funders and policy-makers.
Second, it will give evidence-based advice to museums on how they can further diversify their audiences. This will help museums spend their increasingly limited resources wisely.
The National museums have lots of audience data, but it’s harder to track down information from smaller museums. That’s where you come in and where I need your help. If you have audience research or visitor surveys that look at any aspect of people’s demographics (such as age, class, (dis)ability or ethnicity) then please let me know.
In terms of the bigger picture, there’s a political dimension to my research. Last summer, new culture secretary, Sajid Javid argued strongly that cultural organisations were elitist and did not attract a wide enough audience. In a remarkable coincidence the Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman said almost exactly the same thing at almost exactly the same time.
After years of Labour pressure on museums to widen their audiences, Harman’s comments weren’t surprising. But Javid’s focus on access and inclusion is intriguing – just a few years ago DCMS had scrapped Labour’s long-standing performance measures on audience diversity and reduced the pressure on museums to broaden their audiences.
So, it looks like there may be renewed political attention paid to just who visits museums and what policies make the most difference. If we can get our evidence straight, museums will be in a good position to lead the debate, not just respond to the whims of politicians and their officials.
On final thing, I’m interested in all information about the demographics of your museum’s audience, so let me know about everything you’ve got, even old, scrappy surveys. In fact, I’m especially interested in tracking down old surveys, or even just snippets of information, from around the year 2000, or even earlier than that.