LomoWall at the Museum of London, July 2012. Created by participants  of the museum's Continue Creating programme with community groups. Copyright: Museum of London

Museums fail to close participation gap

Rebecca Atkinson, 03.05.2017
DCMS report highlights diversity issues in English museums
The gap between the highest and the lowest socio-economic groups visiting museums in England has not changed in the past 10 years, despite a general increase in engagement levels.

The findings are revealed in a new Taking Part survey on diversity trends, published by the Department for Culture Media and Sport last week, which examines how cultural engagement between different demographic groups (ethnicity, socio-economic and disability) has changed between 2005-06 and 2015-16.

The report shows that engagement across all three groups has risen in the past 10 years, but continues to be higher for white ethnic groups, the upper socio-economic group and for adults with no long-standing illness or disability.

The number of adults defined as upper socio-economic visiting museums increased from 51.9% in 2005-06 to 61.5% in 2015-16.

In comparison, 28.3% of adults from the lower socio-economic group visited a museum or gallery in 2005-06, rising to 37.4% in 2015-16. The report states that “the gap in engagement between the two socio-economic groups has remained large at 24.1% points in 2015-16”.

Elsewhere in the report, 53% of white adults and 48.2% of adults from a black and minority ethnic group surveyed had visited a museum or gallery in 2015-16, up from 43% and 35.4% respectively in 2005-06.

Engagement for adults with a long-standing illness or disability also rose over the period, from 36.1% to 46.8%. In comparison, 44.7% of non-disabled adults visited a museum in 2005-06, rising to 55.1% in 2016-17.

Alistair Brown, the policy officer at the Museums Association, said: “The latest Taking Part figures show that museums are making real progress in attracting more people from minority ethnic groups. But the participation gap between upper- and lower socio-economic groups remains stubbornly wide, and is a real challenge for the sector.

“We’re working with the Association of Independent Museums on the Diversifying Museum Visitors project, which aims to support museums with practical steps that they can take to grow visitor diversity.”

The report also looks at the arts, library and heritage sectors. It found that there has been a significant decline in engagement with the arts among Asian people since 2005-6. Public library use has decreased for all demographics over the 10-year period, with the greatest decline seen among white ethnic groups, the upper socio-economic group and adults with no disability.

Links and downloads

Diversifying Museum Visitors

Taking Part: focus on diversity trends

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