Thirty per cent of people visited a national institution such as Ulster Museum last year

Visits to Northern Ireland museums hold steady but attendance gaps remain

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 03.10.2018
Almost half the population visited a museum within the last year
Visits to museums in Northern Ireland rose slightly in 2017-18, with the latest Continuous Household Survey statistics showing that 49% of the population visited a museum or science centre within the last year.

According to the survey results, which were published last week by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, this was a small increase on the 48% who said they had visited the previous year.     

People aged 35-44 were the most likely to attend, with 61% reporting a visit, while those aged 65 and over were the least likely to visit at 36%.

Meanwhile, 39% of people with a disability reported visiting, compared to 54% of people without a disability, and 44% of Catholics compared to 51% of Protestants.

The attendance gap was widest among people from differing socio-economic backgrounds, with 38% of people from the most deprived areas visiting compared to 62% of people in the least deprived areas.

Among different types of museum, 34% of people said they had visited a national museum and 30% had visited a local museum. There was a significant attendance gap among the types of visitors to local museums, with just 16% of people from the most deprived areas saying they had visited compared to 42% of those from the least deprived areas.

Overall, the majority of respondents (41%) gave “something to interest the children” as their reason for visiting, with an equal proportion saying they had visited due to “general interest in the subject of the museum or collection”, or “to see a specific exhibition or display” (37%).

Those from the most deprived areas were more likely to give “something to interest the children” as their reason for visiting (53%), while visitors from the least deprived areas were more likely to say they had come out of general interest (44%).

Asked about the benefits they had experienced from visiting, 60% said the visit had "improved their knowledge”, 58% said they had had fun, and 29% said it had helped them teach their children, with the same proportion saying their visit had a positive impact on their wellbeing.

Aside from a slight drop in 2015-16, the proportion of people to visit a museum has remained static at around 48% since 2012-13.

There has been a significant increase in visiting rates in the decade since 2008-09, when just 26% of people said they had visited, although this figure is skewed by the closure of Ulster Museum for refurbishment during that period.

This year's Museums Association Annual Conference & Exhibition will take place in Belfast on 8-10 November.