A review of museums in England – with interesting findings for museums in general

A review of the museums in England, the Mendoza report, was just released. The report makes interesting reading. Some structural findings and recommendations are particular to England, but several of the findings the about the state and priorities for museums are relevant beyond England and provide interesting context e.g. when considering NZ museums.

Most interesting to me are these two points:

  • The increasing evidence of the benefits of museums to society is acknowledged: community cohesion and place-making, formal and informal learning, health and well-being, the attractiveness of cities both for locals and visitors, and direct and indirect economic benefits. It is suggested that museums make more of this by measuring and reporting their impact more widely, ideally using a standard method. And while the Review is focused on national museums, it even includes suggestions for how local authorities, where funding pressures particularly high, can support and make the most of their museums.
  • Museum attendance levels have risen consistently, driven by free admission, a lively sector and high activity level of museums. However, free admission and close proximity of museums does not automatically translate into diverse audiences. Despite rising attendance, audience diversity is still an issue with the ‘usual suspects’ attending and lower attendance by younger people, people with lower socio-economic backgrounds or ethnic minorities. Diversifying audiences is imperative.

Other interesting points:

  • Data is important to understand audiences and museums invest more in audience research, but there is still a big potential for making more of data, e.g. through more consistency and the collation of data for deeper analysis.
  • Digital offers major opportunities for engaging current and new audiences as well as for museum management, however medium and smaller museums are still lagging behind other cultural institutions.
  • There are also number of workforce challenges laid out, in particular the need to diversify staff as a basis for diversifying audiences and developing leaders and leadership skills.
  • The potential for more international collaboration and partnerships is also highlighted.
  • Not surprisingly, financial self-sufficiency is the most pressing challenge for museums in today’s funding environment.

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