The conversation

Thanh Sinden, Anna Liesching, Issue 118/01, p19, 01.01.2018
How can the sector attract more diverse audiences?
Dear Anna: Museums need to set their intention of diversifying audiences as a strategic goal and to recognise it is a commitment that requires sustained engagement. Project-based audience development and one-off events don’t develop and retain diverse audiences. There needs to be a genuine effort to understand people’s motivations and barriers to engaging with museums. We need to be much more collaborative and open to doing things differently.

Best wishes, Thanh


Dear Thanh: We must identify the communities we aren’t engaging with and ask them how we can make museums more welcoming. The goal should be better representation of diverse audiences within our collections. This is often not possible in the short term, but innovative long-term programming and working with partners who have similar goals is a place to start. We’ve had great success engaging with more diverse audiences through working with our local library board.

Best wishes, Anna

Dear Anna: We have also worked with the library service and early-years providers to develop that early relationship with museums. To be relevant to more people, we must find out what matters to them. To do this, we need to be willing to be led by partners that have a more established relationship with these groups. Looking at museum audience diversity data and the population at large, we can identify our audience development opportunities. To maximise our impact, our understanding and approach to equality, diversity and inclusion is key.

Best wishes, Thanh

Dear Thanh: Building trust between museums and audiences is key to creating impactful long-term relationships that reflect the diversity of the communities in which museums are situated. NMNI is trying to do this through a new audience development strategy, and making sure our diversity goals are aligned with our organisational priorities and policies. What we mean by diversifying our audiences varies according to our location and social context. We have a responsibility to make audiences aware of their right to ownership and representation in their museums. Those that are intimidated or uninterested, may not yet appreciate that museums are a public service.

Best wishes, Anna

Dear Anna
: Diversifying audiences is about understanding the context in which your organisation exists. Focusing on the audiences that we want to build relationships with is a starting point. The deeper level of work needed is organisational development. Culture Coventry Trust has been working to embed inclusive practice. We have a strategic plan to address our equality, diversity and inclusion vision. This long-term commitment includes sustained engagement, humility and education. The aim is to maximise our reach and impact for the people of Coventry. As the UK City of Culture in 2021, Coventry plans to use culture as a catalyst to tackle inequalities. Our museums must play a pivotal role in connecting all with Coventry’s story – of recovery, youth, creativity, diversity, innovation, peace and reconciliation.

Best wishes, Thanh

Dear Thanh: We must learn from each other when embarking on these journeys. Our audience goals may differ, but we can still share ideas, challenges and insights in order to diversify our audiences, workforces and collections. When equality, diversity and inclusion are embedded at all levels of an organisation, we can create innovative exhibition programmes, community engagement initiatives and collecting strategies that reflect them. And we should always keep in mind our responsibility to represent the changing multiple narratives of the communities we serve.

Best wishes, Anna

Thanh Sinden is the strategic audience development manager at Culture Coventry Trust

Anna Liesching is the curator of art at National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI)

Thanh Sinden and Anna Liesching are both speaking at the Museums Association event, All Inclusive: Championing Diversity in Museums, which is being held at Thinktank, Birmingham, on 24 January

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