Audience development. Tools to attract new audiences
30 November 9.00am – 3.00pm (MACBA Auditorium)
Teams of museums and other cultural heritage institutions are keen and make efforts to attract a greater number of visitors and also to welcome increasingly diverse audiences. Both museums and public administrations allocate substantial budgets and resources to enhance the social use of cultural heritage. However, both the contributions of public administrations and the enthusiastic dedication of museum teams do not always succeed in increasing the proportion of people who visit them.
Studies indicate that a considerable portion of museum visitors in Catalonia are tourists, and another significant portion comes from school visits. Aside from these two main groups, who else visits the museums? Beyond those who recognize the value of museums as spaces for learning, knowledge, enjoyment, and socialization, it is challenging to reach certain social groups. Young people, the elderly, individuals with low income or literacy levels, as well as those who have come to our country from other countries (especially seeking employment and greater security) are some of the groups that are underrepresented among regular museum visitors. What needs to be done to change the perception that some segments of society have of museums? What offerings, communication strategies, and attitudes should museums have to be perceived as spaces for everyone, where everyone is welcome, and everyone will find something of interest, be moved or challenged?
Audience development aims to expand the audiences of museums and other cultural heritage institutions. This has been an area of growing interest since the end of the last century and has evolved in parallel with society and museums. Analyzing this evolution reveals the multiple meanings of the term "audience development" at the present time.
For some professionals, audience development is closely related to museum marketing, i.e., designing programs and communication tools tailored to specific segments or audiences. Based on generic understanding of the characteristics and interests of these audiences, the goal is to design activities and establish suitable communication tools to attract them to the museum.
In other cases, audience development involves leaving the office and engaging with a particular community, sitting at a table and establishing a dialogue as equals, without prejudice, devoid of the purpose of "selling" the museum. The goal is to explore how to collaborate with certain groups or organizations, co-designing projects to benefit both parties, always within the museum's values: memory, knowledge, sustainability, excellence, inclusion, commitment, etc.
The evolution of museum audience development programs has confirmed this multiplicity of approaches. However, there are some common trends. Some seminal texts from the beginning of the century (Kawashima (2000) and McCarthy & Jinnett (2001)) already outlined different strategies depending on whether the aim is to intensify, expand, or diversify audiences. In the case of intensification, the goal is to get those who already visit to do so more frequently, sometimes through membership programs. If the goal is to expand, marketing strategies involving increased communication, pricing strategies, and other tools are used to attract audiences who rarely visit museums and require often massive and impersonal stimuli. Finally, if the goal is to diversify, efforts are addressed people who do not visit museums and are underrepresented in them. In this case, the only way is to go out and find them, establish dialogues on an equal terms, and devise how to build bridges between the interests and characteristics of a specific community and the museum.
Both European and American projects consulted show that audience development programs have undergone two major changes over the last 20 years. First, participation and co-creation have become essential elements in many museum audience development projects. The wave generated by Nina Simon (2010) and the participatory museum has entered as an essential element in many audience development programs. This has led to a differentiation between two types of audiences: visitors and communities.
Secondly, in recent years, it is evident that audience development plans have changed their structure. In the traditional strategic planning —and in marketing plans that adapt their script to the planning of the relationship between the museum and its audiences— the script starts with the situation analysis and diagnosis, followed by the definition of mission, vision, and objectives. It is then refined with the development of programs, and finally, it concludes by outlining the necessary resources to execute the plan (primarily human resources, budget, and schedule). More contemporary audience development plans place the museum team at the beginning of the script. The team needs to be aligned and fully committed to putting audiences and communities at the center of the museum. The plan must be led by managemement and shared by the board of trustees and governing bodies. Therefore, the evolution of audience development models is flipping the sequence and priorities in the strategic planning of museums. This internal revolution is essential as a driving force for change.
The program presented aims to reflect the polysemy of the concept of audience development, both in the international models presented and in the cases of Catalan museums , for which we appreciate their participation in the conference.
Photo: © Garrotxa Museum.