Audience Development in British National Art Museums


National Gallery London

There is a distinction between high cultural art form (e.g. art, opera, ballet) and popular culture (e.g. film, TV series, fashion design). The first one is identical with advanced taste and exclusivity whilst the second one is classified as ordinary mass-produced goods. In other words, to be able to understand the high culture, people need to have a higher level of knowledge or higher class in society (Boorsma, 2006). This conception promotes an understanding that art as a high cultural form is not for everyone. Therefore, people often question the eligibility of the arts-related state funding. The museum, as a medium to bridge between the artworks and the people, has a responsibility to alter this misconception. Across the year, art museums have been struggling to prove that the public and government funding is worth the investment by acquiring wider audience and assure that they may provide spill-over benefits to the society (O’Hagan, 2016).

The essay aims to further examine the museums’ audience development strategies. It is structured as follows. First, it will define the meaning of art museum, observe several types of museum funding scheme, and the objectives of the funding scheme. Second, it will discuss the museum audience and explore two theories of audience development from Hayes and Slater (2002) and Hansen (2015). Finally, it will mention some examples of audience development strategies in real-life practice which will be organised into four types: (1) taste cultivation; (2) audience education; (3) extended marketing; and (4) outreach, then further analyse how they are related to the objectives of the funding.

At the beginning, museum’s purposes are to store, exhibit, conserve, and archive historical objects and artefacts, including artworks, thus the physical goods can be preserved permanently for the future generation and not just documented through pictures. The establishment of the museum is also based on educational core purpose.  It often acquires artefacts from personal collectors so that the artefacts will be accessible for public. Moreover, the museum is a symbol of well-developed and high-cultured society. That is why sometimes it is identical with the elitist (McClellan, 2008). It is true that museum does not cause an explicit impact on poverty, but it is considered to reaffirm the social and economic inequalities (Kawashima, 2006).

Nowadays the purposes of the museums are getting broader to reach beyond the cultural elitist, eradicate social exclusion, and heading towards the inclusive museum goals. In this case, the term social exclusion does not always refer to the exclusion of marginalised people, but it applies to all classes of people who possess some kind of barriers to participate in the arts and culture (Sandell, 2000). It does not mean that museums will start to display popular art rather than high art, but it will target mainstream audiences and become more socially inclusive (Hayes and Slater, 2002; Jancovich, 2011).

Statistically, there is a total of 17 museums in the UK which are officially funded by the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport (Maddison, 2004). Nevertheless, the scope of this essay is British national art museums or galleries, namely: (1) National Gallery; (2) National Portrait Gallery; (3) Tate; and (4) Victoria and Albert Museum. These museums are funded at arm’s length principle which means that the government does not interfere with their daily operational policies (DCMS, 2016a).

Variety of Funding Schemes in 2005/2006
(Source: Adapted from MLA, 2006)

There are several types of funding schemes based on the sources of the funding. MLA (2006) reported that art museums in the UK gathered their funding from national lottery funding, donations, sponsorships, government grant-in-aid, and public grant-in-aid which performs as the primary income. The museums also earn money from trading in the shops or restaurants and admissions for temporary exhibitions. The huge proportion of the funding is allocated to abolish entrance fee since it is an effective way to attract audiences. This policy succeeded to increase the number of visitors by 128% in 2015/2016 term (DCMS, 2016a). Besides that, the funding is allocated to cover the operational cost, capital expenditure, and to purchase artworks. Based on the statistics, the given funding which is translated into expenditure almost always produces higher income (MLA, 2006). Indirectly, it confirms that the museum funding is well-invested.

Expenditure and Income Comparison in 2015/2016
(Source: Adapted from MLA, 2006)

Despite the general funding, there are more specific funding schemes which target narrower goal such as New Audiences Fund for audience development, Museum Resilience Fund for sustainability and resilience-based development, and Cultural Gifts and Acceptance in Lieu to acquire private-owned works of art and change it into public-owned. Moreover, besides funding by the government, there is also grant by an independent philanthropic organisation such as Museums and Galleries Improvement Funds by The Wolfson Foundation (Hayes and Slater, 2002; DCMS, 2016a). However, Maddison (2004) stated that the increased amount of private grant may decrease the allocation of public and government’s funding in the future. It means that the government aid is not permanent, but rather it befits with the museum’s condition. For instance, Victoria and Albert Museum change their admission status several times during the 2000s.

The main goal of the subsidised arts is ‘providing free public access to permanent collections of national museums and galleries’ (DCMS, 2016a, p.2). However, besides cost, the government also acknowledges the importance of the quality of audiences’ visit to the museum. Therefore, DCMS (2016b, p.3) added that ‘everyone should enjoy the opportunities culture offers no matter where they start in life, […] benefit communities across the country, and […] increase our international standing’.

It is essential to converse the funding into concrete social impact. At some point, people acknowledge the personal and symbolic benefit of the arts such as the ability to spiritually connect oneself to the philosophy of an artwork, gains aesthetic pleasure, elevates social status, and helps us in relaxing our mind (Boorsma, 2006). Furthermore, the principal product of museums is not the artworks collection, but the propositioned experiences for visitors. Some museums not only display artworks and treat visitor as passive spectators, but also initiate related activities to help the visitors immerse themselves in the experience. There are four types of museum-going experiences, namely: ‘(1) social experiences; (2) cognitive experiences; (3) object experiences; and (4) introspective experiences’ (Kotler and Kotler, 2000, p.277).

However, O’Hagan (2016) stated that if art solely has personal benefit, it should not be funded by the government and the taxpayers because people would not get the benefit equally. He further explained that art is a medium to build identity and strengthen social cohesion thus it possesses a social impact. Moreover, Sandell (1998) proclaimed museum as the agent of social regeneration. In relation to these theories, Rushton (2003, p.91) believes that even though not everyone participated in the arts, everyone is ‘collectively benefits from the art’.

To fortify the evaluation of the social impact, each museum has its own interrelated goals which can be divided into three categories: ‘(1) audience goals; (2) product goals; and (3) organisation goals’ (Kotler and Kotler, 2000, 274).  The audience is related to the visitor, the product is related to the collection, and the organisation is related to the income and collaboration between museums. Some of the goals can be valued through quantitative measurements. For example, the museum can count the number of ‘attendance, volunteerism, advocacy, or donations’ and analyse the data as a framework for audience development program (Hayes and Slater, 2002, p. 7). However, some of the qualitative goals are only able to be measured in a long-term research.

The trend of British museums’ audience is escalating throughout the year. The fastest growing audience is shown in the National Gallery with its constant growth. However, Tate succeeded to obtain almost 8 million total visitors in 2015 which was the highest among other museums. It is assumed that this happened because Tate has four separate museums which are Tate Gallery (London), Tate Modern (London), Tate Liverpool, and Tate St. Ives (Tate, n.d.). Approximately 47% of the total visitors comprises of overseas visitors and 7% of the total visitor is under 16 (DCMS, 2016a).

Museum Visitors Between 2010-2015
(Source: Adapted from DCMS, 2016a)

The biggest challenge for the museums is to erase the stigma that art world is dominated by white middle-class male and address the cultural diversity issue (Jancovich, 2011). It leads ACE (2004, p.7) to better understand the profile of the audience demographic. Its New Audiences Program classified the priority of the audiences in its research findings which consists of ‘general audiences, disability, diversity, inclusion, rural, young people, families, and older people’. With wider audience segmentation, it is hoped that the exposure for art museums will be greater.

Before formulating the strategy, McCarthy and Jinnett (2001) stressed the importance to understand the factors that influence people to go to the museum and elaborate it in the RAND model. Besides personal background, which often understood as the most important decision factor, individual perception and their closest communities’ attitudes towards art also have roles in the decision-making process. It means that art museums can change perceptual and practical notion of people from different backgrounds. At the same time, people’s past experiences will determine their perception towards future participation in a cyclical pattern.

Audience Participation Model
(Source: McCarthy and Jinnett, 2001, p.24)

Starting from 2002, all government-funded museums must provide free access to their permanent collections, but they are allowed to sell admission tickets for temporary exhibitions and special events (Madison, 2004). Considering this fact, technically there should not be any financial barrier for people to go to the museums, but on the other hand, many art museums still struggle to alter the stigma that art is exclusive and hard to understand without appropriate knowledge. That is why museums must accommodate the representation of people’s diversity so that everyone will have the same access to participate in cultural appreciation and production (Sandell, 2000).

Wiggins (2004) found out that the greatest barriers are caused by the lack of either motivation, ability, opportunity or the combination between those three aspects. Furthermore, audience motivation itself is diverse. It ranges from ‘self-actualisation, psychological needs, personal development, social needs, and stimulation’ (Cooper and Tower, 1992 as cited in Hill et al., 1995, p.50).

Another theory by Hayes and Slater (2002, p.7) conveyed two approaches of audience development which are (1) mainstream for attenders and (2) missionary for the non-attenders. The attenders and non-attenders are divided into six categories, namely: ‘(1) existing audience; (2) attenders elsewhere; (3) switchers; (4) intenders; (5) indifferent; and (6) hostile’. According to the findings of their research, most of the audiences fell into hostiles and indifferent categories, hence missionary strategies, like conversion and reversion, are more crucial to be implemented. On the other hand, Hansen (2015) adapted audience typology from Kawashima (2006) and proposed strategy for each typology. It simplifies the audiences into four categories based on their attendance and perception.

Audience Develeopment Strategies
(Source: Adapted from Hayes & Slater, 2002 and Hansen, 2015)

The practical examples from Hansen’s strategy (2015) will be discussed below. Some projects are independent projects of the museums while some of them are parts of the New Audiences Fund Scheme which have cultivated a total of 1,157 projects (Kawashima, 2006). Even though the classification is narrowed down into four strategies, the implementation may be overlapping.

Taste Cultivation
Positive attenders are the ideal museum audiences since they already have a personal connection with the arts. The objective of the taste cultivation strategy is to improve audiences’ comfort, generated more perceived value, and raise the frequency of attendance which will be translated into loyalty (Kemp and Poole, 2016; McCarrthy and Jinnett, 2001). The strategy can be achieved by constantly improves the variant of the collections and offers an appealing concept for temporary exhibitions. One of the exhibitions that captivate many visitors is a temporary Raphael Exhibition in National Gallery. It cooperated with other art institutions to bring paintings by Raphael to London for the first time. Approximately 231,000 people came to see this rare exhibition (MLA, 2006).

Another advantage of having mature audiences is the ability to ‘introduce new art forms, genre, or cultural institutions to broaden their scope’ (Hansen 2015, p.348). In line with this, National Gallery routinely commissions musicians to perform a classical piece in the museum (NG, n.d.). Moreover, to engage professional cultural workers as an active museum participants, Victoria and Albert Museum opens a residency program for contemporary UK-based artists, designers, and makers. The selected residents will be provided with on-site studio facility, artworks production grant, and unlimited access to the museum’s resource (VAM, n.d.).

VAM's Artist Residency

Audience Education
Negative attenders are an important target to tackle since they have the ability to advocate public with word-of-mouth or online review that may influence non-attenders to rethink their decision to visit the museum. Museums must transform their negative experience by providing basic education and positive stimulation (Hanse, 2015). For instance, National Gallery commenced Line of Vision youth mentorship and discussion program for a first-time visitor (MLA, 2006). Besides guides, museums also complete the artworks with easy to understand information which linked to interesting facts about the works, artists, or related art movement.

As for children, museums can make activity book or interactive display that is combined with games and art-making workshops (Kotler and Kotler, 2000), like TATE does with its SureStart program (MLA, 2006). If since the early age children are actively engaged in creating art, even though from different forms such as music and dance, it will be easier to appreciate all forms of art (Kemp and Poole, 2016).

The education process also can be enriched with events such as artist talk and public discussion (Hansen, 2015). It strengthens the importance to organise exhibition related to recent issue, thus it will catalyse stimulating discussion. For instance, in 2012 Tate organised an exhibition about immigrant movement. At that time and until nowadays, immigrant is a controversial issue. With the differences between how the public perceive the exhibition, the issue will raise to the surface and educate people who previously are not concerned with this matter. In this way, museums function as the agent of social change.

Extended Marketing
Positive non-attenders can be classified as a soft target because they are already interested in arts or museums. Mainly this segment’s barrier is related with a physical barrier and it can be changed into an opportunity for the museum. If it wants to expand the market, this segment is the most promising target (Wiggins, 2004).

Fundamentally, the museum must ensure that the information related to event and program has reached the audiences. The information can be spread through the website, social media, and electronic invitation (McCarthy and Jinnett, 2001). However, some audiences may not be able to attend the exhibition because they live far away from the location or have a busy schedule. The solution is to harness the power of digital technology. Museums can offer an informative website which is completed with an online shop and free downloadable resource, online course, or phone application. The example is Love Art phone application by National Gallery that can help non-attenders to accomplish virtual tour (Dawson, 2013)

Love Art Phone Application
(Source: Dawson, 2013)

A physical barrier also happens to people with special needs. In this term, National Gallery has Magical Journey Program. It brings the duplicate portrait of children author and poet for children in the hospital, tells stories about them, and encourages children to make their own art in order to feel better and happier. This program proves that art can contribute to wellbeing. Nationa Portrait Gallery also provides public creative space for an artist with disability (NPG, n.d.). In addition, a program like Talking Images by Tate and Royal National Institute for the Blind conducts a research to improve blind audiences’ art experiences (MLA, 2006). To some extent, most of the extended marketing strategies are close to community development approach (Kotler and Kotler, 2000).

Different with the previous types, negative non-attenders may be physically available but they have a psychological barrier which is related to motivation. This cluster of the audience is subbed as a hard target (Wiggins, 2004) because the museums are not only competing with other museums to get their attention but also with other modes of entertainment such as cinema and concert. The proposed strategy is to move the settings from the physical museums whilst convey the same content (Hansen, 2015)

In example, National Gallery worked together with BBC1 to produce a series of documentary about British art entitled A Picture of Britain and Victoria and Albert Museum acts as the main speaker for a BBC2 show about modernism movement which was inspired by its exhibition (MLA, 2006). There is also At Home with Art program by Tate. It commissioned 9 artists to design and produce mass-produced products. It challenged the notion of art as a one-of-a-kind piece of work. The products were sold in ordinary homeware shops. More than 37,000 products were sold and the interesting concept of the program received wide media exposure (ACE, 2004). With this programs, the museums hope to ignite a spark of interest in the audiences’ mind. However, on top of that, all museums present open access to their annual report as accountability for the public patronage.

All in all, although the museums acquire their capital from several funding schemes, public grant-in-aid is their primary source (MLA, 2006). Nowadays, the primary objective of the funding is to provide equal access for everyone, regardless of their background (DCMS, 2016a). This objective is improved from the past objectives which revolve around preservation and education (McClellan, 2008). Since museums are funded by the public, it is paramount to ensure that they acquire equal benefits. The audience development strategy is the tool to help museums reach this equality.

However, before formulating any audience development program, the museum must understand the audience profile and investigate the barriers which preclude them for participating in the arts. Hayes and Slater (2002), Kawashima (2006), and Hansen (2015) holistically covers all types of audiences and assist specific strategies to engage with each type of audiences. Even though the two ideas may have different classifications, but the main ideas are similar. They both convey that museums must choose the strategy depends on the targets that they want to touch, which are attenders or non-attenders.

Regarding the objective of public grant-in-aid to prepare better access for everyone, the strategy for the non-attenders can be implemented. At the same time, access is also related to the visitors’ comfort and loyalty which is covered in the attenders’ strategy. Therefore, it can be concluded that to fulfil the aims of the subsidy, museums must perform several types of audience development strategies. It cannot just offer free charge and simultaneously expect people to come without further ado.

Moreover, the effectiveness of the strategies can be seen in wide variables from quantitative measurements of visitors’ attendance, website clicks (DCMS, 2016a), to a more intangible social function indicator such as the ability to provoke public discussion and offer new perspectives towards current issue (DCMS, 2016). As for the aim to fortify international standing, they aimed to gain more overseas audience by promoting the museums in the digital platform such as websites and phone applications.

This is an essay for Creative Lives Assignment for Creative Industries and Cultural Policy Course at the University of Glasgow. Please provide proper citation if you use this as reference.

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