Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Museum and Gallery visitor profiles

Great to read in the Sydney Morning Herald that a survey of visitors to art galleries has shown that 33% are aged between 15 and 34 (and that excludes school groups) and only 16% over 65. The survey has been undertaken by Museums and Galleries NSW, an organization I have a high regard for (and the CEO Maisy Stapleton). It is focused on delivering services to the smaller and regional museums and galleries around NSW, but they also run excellent ‘current issue’ workshops in conjunction with the Museum of Sydney. I remember one particularly memorable one where they asked a selection of museum directors to sit on a panel together and discuss what made the job pleasurable and not pleasurable. Most of the responses were predictable, but I do remember Peter Watts, then head of the Historic Houses Trust of NSW saying the hardest part was giving eulogies at staff funerals, a process he unfortunately had a done a couple of times too many for his liking. Ironically on the panel was Seddon Bennington, the head of the Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand, who died whilst hiking north of Wellington last month, and whose loss to the Australasian museum scene is significant.

However back to those stats. Are our museums and galleries really getting a third of their visitation from the 16-33 age group? My guess is that galleries may be but that museums definitely are not. And that comes back to museums unfortunately being less cool than galleries. The Powerhouse in Sydney is trying hard to overcome this especially through its focus on design and fashion exhibitions and events, which do draw a good young crowd. And more broadly their work through the inexhaustible Seb Chan in the use of the net and social media is giving them a profile which galleries have less leverage to achieve. That is, although gallery web sites may have great images to look at, the way in which museum web sites like the Powerhouse can create links and tell stories about their collections generally means such sites have more depth to them. And that in turn is where our 15 to 34 years olds are living their lives. Seb’s latest blog indeed talks about their ability to reach people who would never cross the threshold of a museum but having become engaged with the Museum’s web site are drawn to physically visit.

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