Why Do Visitors Not Come to Museums?

In museums we ask, “Why are people not attending?” But the real question we should be asking is, “What are museums doing that make people not want to attend?” Museums must start to look at themselves and analyze what they are doing or not doing so that more people feel welcome in a place that is designed for them.

As pointed out in The Museum Experience Revisited by Dierking and Falk, museums need to be conscious of the needs of all types of visitors. Museums need to realize that when reaching out to the public that they are not a monolithic group. Emily Holmes, Director of Education at the Paul Revere House in Boston, acknowledges this perception and tries to involve women from all different backgrounds in her organization’s programs. The Paul Revere House offers classes on child rearing in the 18th century for women of all races, ethnicity, and backgrounds. These type of programs for the community get visitors into the museum by opening up programs that relate to all women through the common theme of children. These types of programs get people to set foot through the doors of museums and increase attendance by serving an educational purpose for all which creates an environment more welcoming in the future.

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12 Responses to Why Do Visitors Not Come to Museums?

  1. varljt75 says:

    That’s an interesting idea. Did she mention how the community’s liking it so far?

  2. at01lang says:

    The continual lament: “There are so many interesting things here. This is the one great museum in this town. Where is everyone?” That is a feeling we have all had, I imagine, and I wonder, honestly, how many of us began to truly try and consider things from the visitor’s perspective before some of our initial work here at CGP. Now, I imagine none of us enter a museum without asking at least once “Is there something here everyone could find some interest in?”

    Of course, actually achieving this is far easier said than done, and it puts the museum in a difficult position that it is still trying to adjust to. For it is not easy, which makes the successful programs that much more exceptional. The program at the Paul Revere house sounds that an engaging and accessible form of community programming that remains true to the character of the place. And I also wonder what the practical applications of such a program might be beyond its content. Does it have useful lessons for today? How can museums balance content with more everyday applicable ideas?

  3. kiewma93 says:

    I find that it is also important to have special programs for autistic kids. There are a staggering number now. A lot of museums are slow to address this trend. It can be as simple as creating a social story, something The Strong museum is working on currently. Families with children who have autism often feel they are not welcome, especially in a place where it is not alright to touch things.

  4. armok59 says:

    I think it’s great that the Paul Revere House considers women specifically in their programming. I hope that their programming can help women of different backgrounds find a way to relate to one another.

  5. I love the idea of trying to engage visitors at their own levels rather than forcing them to engage in the ways museums think are best. Finding universal themes that are accessible and understandable to the public is key to creating successful programming that people actually care about and are interested in.

  6. thankyouluke says:

    Do you think this applies to some types of museums more than others? For example, a history of baseball exhibit my focus entirely on the history of the sport through the lens of White, male history, with little attention paid to the contribution of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women, and others. Do you think a science exhibit would give off the same “vibes” of exclusion? I think it might. Many of what society perceives as its greatest accomplishments come from the minds of white men. Museum professionals really have to work to ensue all populations feel welcome in their institutions.

  7. emerbr84 says:

    I also think museums need to be more outwardly focused. Involvement in their communities would prompt more visitation.

  8. juliafell17 says:

    I’m really curious about the classes that the Paul Revere House! It seems like a really great way to bring in a new, curious demographic to a site that is otherwise probably seen a sort of masculine institution. The effort to include women in traditional male spaces is so important, not just in museums, but in our culture overall.

  9. pnorman02 says:

    I think it is great that the Paul Revere House is creating programming that appeals to women, but I think it is also important to go out and survey the community and find out what they want. I worry that programming focusing on child rearing is keeping women in socially constructed role of mothers, but maybe more info is needed about the program to understand what they discuss.

  10. karissa430 says:

    I think that program on child rearing is really interesting. Motherhood is an experience that many women can relate to. It’s also important to understand that not all women are mothers, so this program wouldn’t reach that specific audience. But I think this is an interesting program for the Revere House to do.

  11. kwebberj says:

    It still amazes me that it took so long for museums to realize their focus should be on audience. This book is a great example of what that shift in thinking looks like, and how it translates into exhibitions and programming. I like your examples from the Paul Revere House!

  12. mickcr says:

    Diversifying programming to attract more visitors is a great strategy as long as it stays true to the mission! I wonder what other programs the Paul Revere House has instituted to gain different types of visitors.

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