After my excellent lunch the other day with Rob and Gillian, I got inspired (or was that instructed!) by Rob to re-visit his 2005 paper The "Museum Constant": One-third plus or minus a bit (Visitor Studies Today!, 8/2, pp1, 4-7). Rob reports on an analysis of museum visiting data collected over a 13 year period with Australians asking about their leisure activities, demographic profile and personality/self-description items. Generally it was found that around 35% of the Sydney population visit museums, with the interest in museums more noticeable in those who agreed with the statement "I am interested in abstract ideas", then followed by education level.
Four things struck me from that as we struggle here with thinking about our general exhibitions and program offer:
- There is a limit to the audience for museums (knew that but good reinforcement)
- The limit '... appears to be driven by people's preferences for conceptual cognitive activity' (p.7)
- Although education is a strong predictor it acts as an enabler in people participating in the museum experience
- 'It may be that museums in large population centres cannot hope to reach all the people in their catchment, but perhaps over time, they can reach about two-thirds of them' (p.7)
In my recent survey of what Australians do online, I found that while those who visit museums undertake the same kinds of online activities (such as read blogs, comment on sites, use RSS feeds, etc), they were more likely to use a wiki; listen to a podcast; tag a web page; comment on a blog; post a rating/review; participate in a discussion board/forum; read a blog.
I'm wondering in future whether these kinds of stats will be affected by the online world and the new kinds of relationships museums will have with their audiences that visit them both virtually and physically? I'm becoming (surprisingly) more interested in how we then develop closer relationships in these aspects as we our rebuild our website and deeply think about our physical offer. To me, the conceptual aspects that Rob talks about are ripe for the picking in those who will interact with us online too.
Maybe time for some targeted research in this area??