English museums and galleries failing to diversify repeat visitors

Patrick Steel, 18.05.2016
Seven in ten "consistent" museum and gallery visitors from higher socio-economic group
A survey commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has found that nearly three quarters of "consistent" visitors to museums and galleries in England are from the highest socio-economic group.

The findings are part of the Taking Part longitudinal survey, which interviewed museum and gallery visitors annually over a three-year period from 2012 to 2015.

The survey found that three in ten respondents did not visit a museum or gallery at all over that period, 70% visited at least once, and 31% were "consistent" visitors.

"Consistent" visitors are those who have reported at least one visit over the previous year at all three interviews.

Of those "consistent" visitors, who account for the majority of museum and gallery visits, 71% were in the higher socio-economic group, while 31% were living in areas classed as Wealthy Achiever by the Acorn metrics.

"Consistent" visitors were more likely to be home owners (75% of "consistent" visitors), rather than private or social renters, and less likely than other groups to have a disability or long-term illness.

The longitudinal findings reflect trends in the annual Taking Part survey, which saw visits from those in the lower socio-economic groups at 38.9% compared with 52% of all adults in 2014-15. But over a ten-year period visits from these groups are up from 28.3% in 2005-06.

"The sector has been attempting to reach out to new audiences across society for decades, and it is frustrating to see so little movement in these figures," said Alistair Brown, the Museums Association's policy officer.

"Nevertheless, we know that many museums are succeeding in building new audiences and delivering social impact in their local communities, and we hope that this will begin to be reflected in the official statistics in future."

The longitudinal survey also found that of people whose visits increased over the reporting period, having more free time was the most commonly cited reason (19%), while encouraging their child’s learning was also a common response (13%).

Social media

A separate survey, Taking Part Focus On: Social Media, conducted over the same period, found that of the 70.4% of adults in England who had used social media in the past year, 12.8% use social media to get information about arts events; 8% to plan and inform visits to museums or galleries; 7.3% to plan and inform visits to heritage sites, and 1.3% to discuss or comment on heritage sites or issues.

The most common use of social media was to find out what was happening in the local area (41%), followed by the sharing of content and views on content (29%).

Facebook was found to be the most popular social media platform for museum visitors, followed by YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Spotify.