Monday, November 8, 2010

Museum statistics

We all know the Disraeli quote that There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. So I hesitate to draw attention to the latest offering from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Arts and Culture in Australia: A Statistical Overview
However it does make for interesting reading. It’s just been released (October 2010), but only covers the year 2005-2006. The information is now going to be regularly updated, so that for instance the section on attendance in selected cultural venues for 2009-2010 is due out by next month.

Let me provide a snapshot of what I found to be some of the more interesting statistics, all of which relate to the period 2005-06:

  • Australians on average spent 0.3% of their time visiting entertainment and cultural venues, which is the same as that spent on religious activities and three times as much as that spent at sporting venues.
  • 3,630,000 people attended art galleries and 3,611,900 attended museums (i.e. almost equal) as compared to 5,699,000 that attended zoos or aquariums (surprisingly high) and 1,508,000 that attended classical music concerts (surprisingly low).
  • Significantly more females attended art galleries than males, whereas only marginally more females attended museums than males.
  • The frequency of attendance at art galleries (36% only once, 46% 2-4 times and 17% 5 times or more) was significantly higher than at museums (50% only once, 39% 2-4 times and 11% 5 times or more).
  • 57% of overseas visitors attended a museum or art gallery and 62% visited a historic building or site
  • State funding of collecting institutions varies widely, an interesting comparison being between the three major eastern states. On the face of it, there is a massive discrepancy between museum spending in Victoria and NSW, with the latter being far more supportive. Likewise in Queensland , it looks as though Archives are being disproportionately supported, though this may be due to capital works.

                                       Art galleries  Museums   Libraries    Archives

                     NSW           $49.9m          $138m          $67.3m          $7.9m

                     Victoria        $43.7m       $46.9m       $85.9m        $15.1m

                    Queensland    $36.2m    $37.1m    $48.8m       $51.9m

  • Employment in museums and art galleries rose from 5,422 in 2001 to 6,204 in 2006 a rise of 14%, whereas employment in libraries dropped a massive 39% in the same period from 11,451 to 6,986, no doubt partly due to the introduction of technological services
A few thoughts arising from these stats:

  • What is the offering that zoos/aquariums are providing that attracts so many more visits than art galleries and museums? Is it all about attracting kids?
  • The significantly increased frequency of visits (i.e. return visitation) to art galleries over museums is in my view due to the better handle art galleries have on creating social spaces, i.e. places where people want to come to socially interact and dwell.
  • With over 6 million overseas tourists and students coming to Australia each year, the fact that 57% of them visit a museum or art gallery must make us focused on how we cater for them.
  • There are a large number of unemployed librarians out there.
It is also worth taking a look by comparison at a new UK site that Creative Choices has put out called Data Generator, which is designed to help individuals and businesses access the latest economic and demographic research and analysis. It looks to be a useful online tool that can help with advocacy, strategic decisions, future planning, funding applications and presentations, and if nothing else proves the point that statistics do indeed have a use.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director


  1. These figures always interest me.

    I'd love to know what the actual aggregate figures are - are the 3.6mil people who visit art galleries roughly the same 3.6mil who visit museums? and are these just a subset of the 5.7mil who visit zoos?

    indeed art galleries do social spaces better than museums, but i wonder whether this is also a factor of the perceived cost of entry to some museums?

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