Ownership, pride, hope: What drives public support for museums? - Museums Association

Ownership, pride, hope: What drives public support for museums?

Report identifies nine emotional drivers as key to successful campaigns, advocacy and community engagement
Students visiting the Horniman Museum, which won the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award 2022 and features as a case study in the report
Students visiting the Horniman Museum, which won the Art Fund Museum of the Year Award 2022 and features as a case study in the report Amaal Said/Art Fund

A report has been published that looks at how emotions can drive public support for museums – and offers guidance and case studies for running successful advocacy and crowdfunding campaigns as well building longer-term and sustainable community engagement.

Pleasure, Connection and Purpose: How museums can leverage emotions to build greater public support, commissioned by the Art Fund and the Association of Independent Museums, is based on research undertaken last summer by behavioural research and insights consultancy M.E.L with seven museums and their communities.

The research identifies nine key emotional drivers that “are the building blocks of creating pleasure, connection, and purpose”:

Museums make people feel proud: of their identity, of their heritage, of their community.
Museums inspire optimism and make people feel hopeful.
Museums provide emotionally rewarding learning experiences, which make people feel fulfilled.
Museums provide welcoming spaces which make us feel like we belong.
People’s memories of museums are loaded with emotion – nostalgia is a key motivator for supporting museums.
People are highly invested in museums when they feel a sense of ownership over them.
Feeling curious about the world drives our motivation to engage with museums.
The promise of seeing amazing, one-of-a-kind things sparks excitement in people.
People feel in awe of the scale of museums´ collections, and often of the physical spaces or objects themselves.

The report examines how each emotional driver translates into public support – moving from the “pleasure” many people get when visiting a museum to “connection” and (the most difficult to achieve) a “feeling of purpose”.

Writing in a blog post, Lucy Bird, the Art Fund's policy manager, said ownership stands out as key when it comes to influencing policy.


“As we continue to navigate large swings from crisis to crisis, and policy to policy, it is useful to be reminded of the importance of creating and sustaining a feeling of community ownership, both in programmes and in collections,” she said.

“To support this, a strategic approach to government funding, which enables museums, galleries, and communities to have ownership over their future planning beyond the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis, could make all the difference.”

The report recommends organisations foster a long-term feeling of ownership through sustained dialogue and contemporary collecting with communities.

It also makes a number of recommendations for putting the research into practice, including a four-step approach to building emotionally resonant campaigns, and tips on how to foster emotional responses from audiences.

The seven museums that took part in the research were:

  • Skylark, Dumbarton, Scotland
  • St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art, Glasgow, Scotland
  • Williamson Museum and Art Gallery, Birkenhead
  • Creswell Crags, Worksop
  • Newtown Textile Museum, Newtown, Wales
  • Lowewood Museum, Greater London
  • Cinema Museum, London

The participating museums were identified from a long-list of organisations that had been threatened with closure or cuts, had not yet opened, or had previously run crowdfunding campaigns.

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