The director of the People's History Museum said quality of experience needed to be maintained to attract new audiences

Proportion of adults visiting museums hits all-time high

Rebecca Atkinson, Issue 113/01, p15, 04.01.2013
Taking Part survey finds that 52% of people have visited a museum or gallery in past year
Participation at museums, galleries and heritage sites hit record highs last year despite ongoing budget cuts, restructures and closures.

The government’s Taking Part survey, which covers the period from October 2011 to September 2012, found that nearly 52% of the people questioned said they had visited a museum or gallery in the past year, compared with 42% when the survey began in 2005-06.


Are increasing visitor numbers sustainable?

The survey also revealed that nearly three-quarters of adults questioned said they had visited a heritage site in the past year – the highest in the survey’s history.

Katy Archer, director of the People’s History Museum in Manchester, said: “In times of challenge and change, museums are clearly able to respond by offering services that are valued by the public.

But we need to ensure that the quality of the experience is maintained and improved, in order to retain these existing audiences and continue to attract new groups.

“This obviously places demands on individual organisations and the wider sector when cuts are still being made and future funding is by no means secure.”

The rise in participation comes at a time when local authority funding for museums fell by 11% (nearly £23m), according to government data. David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: “What damage will the current swathe of budget cuts do to this pattern of visitor growth?

The risk is that growth will soon be replaced by a decline in visitor numbers, as jobs and activities are cut back. This is the reality of budget cuts – the potential for a generation-long period of harm to museums, their users and their collections.”

The Taking Part survey also found that visitors’ digital engagement had increased. Nearly 29% of adults had visited a museum or gallery website in the past year – the highest level since data collection began.

But while the number of people visiting websites to find out about or order tickets for an exhibition or event has risen significantly, there has been a fall in the proportion of people visiting to look at items from a collection, from 34% in 2005-06 to 21% in 2011-12.