Thursday, August 6, 2009

Why museum visits rise in recessions

I’ve blogged before about the mixed messages that we are getting from data about visitor traffic during the recession.

But there really does now seem to be evidence that visitor numbers are rising on both sides of the Atlantic, as reported by Brook S. Mason in The Art Newspaper published online 29 Jul 09. The English National Trust says numbers are up by 8% in May compared to last year and overall by 24% this year. As always the detail reveals a bit of an explanation in that visits to Beatrix Potter’s house in the Lake District have almost doubled since the film ‘Miss Potter’ was released. But in the US too the National Trust is seeing between a 20% and 50% increase. “Staycations” (only in America would you find such a word) in the US seem to be driving attendance at some National Trust properties. “We have anecdotal evidence confirming that people are spending less, staying closer to home and visiting more of our sites,” says James Vaughan, National Trust vice president for historic sites in Washington, DC.
“Compared to the cost of a theatre or movie ticket, seeing an artist’s home or historic site is a relative bargain,” says Helen Harrison, director of the Pollock-Krasner House in the US. “Plus, the buildings are air-conditioned and a ticket is only $5.” In the UK, Ms Reynolds says that the cost of a National Trust family membership is less than a single day at a theme park.
My question is do museum/historic house visitors really weigh up before a visit whether to head out to the movies or to a museum experience? Surely we are about giving them a very different experience, not one that can be compared to a movie.

My view is that we are managing to draw more visitors because we can offer them a spiritual experience, either through their being in an historic house, generally a place of beauty and one full of stories, or their being in a museum or gallery, which invariably will be a church-like space in terms of size and contain a broad array of artwork and artefacts all of which can tell stories.

In summary therefore I get the bit about Staycations, i.e that there are more people staying at home and undertaking local visits. But I don’t buy into the 'bargain' idea of a museum visit as against the theatre or the movies. We need to see them as completely different experiences and build on that. I believe the visitor does too and will continue to respond well when they see us emphasising that difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment