Event | Museums Association Conference I

Margot Walker prepares for this year's Museums Association Conference in Glasgow...

Visiting museums is part of who I am….

I’m on my way to Glasgow for this year's Museums Association conference via Liverpool to see friends and check out the latest cultural hangouts. I can’t help myself, my whole upbringing has fuelled a curious nature, an urge to travel and consume culture. I can frequently be found in museums, picking up a heritage trail by foot, by bike or virtually. To me this is the norm though more and more through my work with The Audience Agency I realise that my preference is not reflected by the majority of the population.

Over the past 18 months I have been working with museums of all forms and sizes with specialist and broad historical collections as part of Visitor Finder (now Audience Finder). It has been a peach of a job, lots of travel, far too much coffee and a chance to meet wonderful people – the museum makers. I take my hat off to them trying to balance the demands of dwindling public funding and remaining relevant and vibrant places in a competitive leisure and cultural world.

Alongside these demands, there seems to be little reward or recognition for their high quality and often innovative work. Museums serve communities in so many ways, but they often lack the resources to actually make the most of their collections or even to tell the wider community and potential funding/collaborative partners about the work they do. Consequently, the impact of projects is often short lived and it’s back to the drawing board to find more funding to support vital work. So, I’m keen to help museum makers understand more about audiences and set realistic plans for growth and/or change based on evidence which could have an enduring effect and lasting legacy.

Often museum makers reflect that if they were in business they would depend on market research to develop their products and gain competitive edge – somehow the connection has not been made that this is also necessary in the cultural world too.

The good news is that thanks to our data crunching we now have evidence and learning to share and compare with. This means I now have a pretty good idea of visitor behaviour and in particular what motivates people to visit a museum. In a nutshell it is thus: museums are a social space – nine out of 10 people visit with someone else and the number one motivation is to spend time with friends and family. Beyond that, visitors are looking for a memorable experience – often, but not always - to learn, it can be to reflect and enjoy the atmosphere.

Also it tells me that I’m not alone in my quest as 11% of people say their main motivation to attend a museum is because ‘museums reflect an important part of who I am’.

I look forward to meeting other like minded folk in Glasgow at #museums2016

Margot Walker, Consultant
Follow her on twitter @margotnowwalker