Museum participation should be a measure of wellbeing, says MA

Geraldine Kendall, 12.04.2011
MA responds to consultation into how to quantify national happiness
The Museums Association (MA) has responded to a consultation by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) into how national wellbeing should be measured.

The ONS is currently developing a new happiness index and has invited input from organisations in the cultural sector. The index aims to cover areas such as quality of life, environmental and sustainability issues and economic performance.

In response to the consultation, MA head of policy and communication Maurice Davies said it was vital that the index should recognise the importance of cultural engagement to national happiness.

In particular, he advocated that “public participation in museums should be included as a measure of national wellbeing”.

Davies suggested that existing evidence compiled by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of its ongoing Taking Part survey would be useful to the new ONS index.

The latest Taking Part figures show that between 2006 and 2010, the proportion of people visiting a museum, gallery or archive increased from 41.5% to 47.2%.

“That equates to several million extra people visiting museums and galleries,” said Davies. “The DCMS Taking Part survey is a really good existing measure [the ONS] could incorporate.”

Davies also pointed towards initiatives such as the recently launched Happy Museum Project, which aims to help museums play a more visible role in creating a happier and more sustainable society.

The project, which is led by Tony Butler of the Museum of East Anglian Life and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, is currently offering a pot of £60,000 funding to museums for commissions that incorporate its key principles.

“The Happy Museum project is a great opportunity for museums to refine the way they improve people's wellbeing,” Davies said.

The first official happiness index is due to be released by the ONS in 2012.

For more on the wellbeing consultation, click here

To see the data from the Taking Part survey, click here (pdf)

To find out about the Happy Museum Project, click here