Sector bodies research ways to diversify UK museum visitors

Patrick Steel, 24.01.2017
AIM leads on project looking at socio-economic and protected characteristics of diversity
The Association of Independent Museums (AIM) is looking to help UK museums increase the diversity of their core visitors.

The Diversifying Museum Visitors project is led by AIM in partnership with a steering group made up of Arts Council England, the Museums Association (MA), Museums Galleries Scotland, the Welsh Government, and National Museums Northern Ireland, and looks to provide tools and guidance to help museums make long-term changes to their organisations to increase the diversity of their audiences.

The steering group is currently looking for a consultant to manage the research, which will result in a final report in October.

The project will look at socio-economic diversity as well as the protected characteristics, and hopes to get museums to think about diversity in relation to their local communities. It is hoped that this will enable museums to understand the barriers to some audiences visiting museums and enable organisations to overcome internal barriers that prevent them from diversifying their audiences.

The Taking Part survey in England has highlighted that while the percentage of the population visiting museums has grown over the past ten years, the diversity of visitors has not increased. The research will look at the reasons why some groups do not visit and ways of increasing participation.

“It is fundamental to the purpose of all types of museum to be accessible to everyone and to see people from all sections of their community visiting - but this isn't happening in many museums,” says Tamalie Newbery, AIM’s executive director.

“This project will break new ground in helping museums to attract more diverse visitors, and in so doing will also support their sustainability.

“As well as looking at existing research and case studies, the project will work with museums that want more diverse visitors, to identify how they can overcome the obstacles they experience.

“AIM is really excited by the potential of this project and delighted to be working with partners across the UK in delivering it."

The MA's director, Sharon Heal, says: “We are delighted to be working with AIM and other colleagues to help shape the research and guidance.

"It's vital that museums understand the barriers to visiting and I hope the toolkits and guidance that are developed as part of this project will help museums develop audiences that reflect their local communities.

The MA's Museums Change Lives campaign aims to increase social impact that museums can deliver working in partnership with their communities, and chimes strongly with the principle that museums should reflect the full diversity of the communities that they serve."

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Diversifying Museum Visitors


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Helen Wilkinson
Assistant Director, Association of Independent Museums
26.01.2017, 10:43
You're completely right, Maurice, but the research hasn't been acted on. So the emphasis of this project is very much on summarising existing research, learning lessons where we can, and then providing practical guidance that will really make a difference. There are a few museums that do manage to achieve a really diverse audience and we want to understand how and why that is so that those lessons can be shared.
Maurice Davies
Head of Collections, Royal Academy of Arts
25.01.2017, 21:05
We have some 20 years-worth of guidance on how to diversify museum visitors, plenty of it ignored by plenty of museums. Surely what's needed is action rather than yet more reports? (I realise I spent most of my career writing reports, but this is an area where even I'd be stuck to find something new to say.)