Bristol's new museum, M Shed, exceeded its visitor target in 2011

DCMS survey records highest levels of participation yet

Geraldine Kendall, 09.05.2012
Attendance at English museums and heritage sites reaches record heights
Recent figures released by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) show that participation in culture, heritage and the arts is continuing to reach record heights in England.

DCMS' ongoing Taking Part survey, which is updated by the Office of National Statistics every three months, has shown that the period covering January to December 2011 saw the highest levels of participation in museums recorded since the survey began in 2005-06.

Almost 48% of respondents said they had visited a museum or gallery in that time, a significant increase on the 42% recorded five years earlier.

People in rural areas were just as likely to visit museums or galleries as those in urban areas, but there were significant regional variations. At almost 55%, Londoners had the highest levels of attendance while the East Midlands saw the lowest proportion, with just over 41% attendance.

All regions had seen significant increases in attendance since 2005/06 apart from the East Midlands and the South West.

Participation is increasing across key demographic groups. The proportion of black and minority ethnic (BME) groups visiting a museum or gallery in the last year was up from 35% in 2005/06 to almost 43% - though this remains significantly lower than the proportion of white adults visiting, which stands at 48%.

Digital engagement figures are also on the rise. 26% of respondents said they had visited a museum or gallery website in 2011, an increase of nearly 10% on 2005/06.

Of those, nearly 57% were looking to find out about or book tickets for exhibitions. But at just over 20%, the proportion of people going online to view items from collections has actually dropped 13% since 2005/06.

The survey also showed that more than 73% of adults had visited a heritage site in the last year, the highest proportion yet to be recorded.

Visits by BME groups to heritage sites have risen nearly 8% since 2005/06 - now standing at just over 58% - while attendance from people over 75 is up more than 5% in that period, to almost 58%.

Maurice Davies, the MA’s head of policy, said: “It’s fantastic to see that museums are more popular with the public than ever before.

"Year after year a greater proportion of the population visits museums. This is clear evidence that museums are getting better at being relevant to more and more people and offering visitors things that matter to them.”