Museums make me happy. I bet they make you happy too.
And for many regular museum-goers, museums make them, yes, happy.
How do I know? They told me. In my 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, I asked museum-goers to fill in the blank: Museums make me _____.
By far, "happy" was the most common single answer.
My first response was "that's nice," but it didn't feel meaningful. To be honest, a good, chewy, oatmeal raisin cookie makes me happy as well. So I kept looking at the responses, setting them aside, and returning to them again. And, happily, I think I've put my finger on what's been nagging at me.
When it came to filling in that blank, Museums make me _________, overall, responses fell into three categories:
To be clear, all of these responses are great outcomes, and almost no one (<1%) said museums had not affected their life in some way. (Keep in mind that this is a sample of museum-goers; a broader population sample would certainly be rather different.)
But the depth of response does differ in these categories. The individuals who gave a feel response were, overall, sharing a wonderful, affective response, laden with values. But that emotional response, for most, did not imply that they did anything or changed in any way.
The respondents that did something, like "learn" or "think," gave little indication about how they felt about what they learned or thought about, or what they did with it. Did it matter to them? We can probably presume so, but for most, their answer did not indicate anything.
That makes that last category, with a quarter of responses, all the more interesting. Change. For these respondents, in only a word or two, they were able to articulate something deeper and more powerful … the positive impact that was a result of engaging profoundly with museums … of feeling and thinking. Synthesizing an emotional response to new information, resulting in a positive change. Which is, after all, what we are really after, right?
Now, granted, this question was designed to return very short answers. Follow-up questions in the survey do, indeed, pull out deeper responses from many of these respondents (which I am currently, and painstakingly, coding). But this quick, initial response is still rather telling about the values placed on museums by museum-goers … and I'm curious to see if those who initially indicated change differ from other museum-goers in other important ways as well. Stay tuned …
The 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers was fielded in January/February 2017. 25 museums across the country participated, with n = 6,162; half of respondents came from children's museums and science centers, half from art or history museums. The questions for this survey were inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who visits museums, why they visit, what do they value about museums, and what motivates them) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.
If you would like your museum to participate in the 2018 Annual of Survey of Museum-Goers, enrollment is now open!
Museums are a great place to spend time with family and friends. We all know that.
Research confirms that many museum visits are driven by a desire for a good social experience with those we care about (why museums are chosen over other options is where motivations get really interesting, but I digress). And let's be honest, we choose museums for time with our families and friends as well. I know I do.
But when we think of who drives that social experience, many of us think of women. Moms making choices for their families. Wives bringing husbands. Groups of female friends at the art museum or botanical garden. Women also comprise a significant majority of museum email lists … and thus are typically more aware of what is going on at museums.
There are exceptions (visions of my father and WWII museums in Europe come to mind), but generally … women. Right?
What if we're wrong?
In broader population research I fielded last fall, I asked respondents, both museum-goers and non-visitors, if they were to visit a museum, what their primary reasons would be. When it comes to spending time with family or friends, here's what I found:
Yep, men were 1.3x more likely to cite time with family and friends.
Museum-going men were 10 percentage points more likely to cite this reason than museum-going women, 42% vs. 32%.
And even among non-visitors, men were still more likely; 24% of men said if they were to visit museums, this would be a reason versus only 17% of women.
So maybe we need to rethink our assumptions a bit, and consider how we can attract and engage more men in ways that motivate them to say "hey, let's go to the museum today" with their family or friends.
And a final note. Spending time with family or friends wasn't the top reason why someone might visit a museum for either men or women. Learning experiences for themselves was number one for both, at 37%.
The questions for this survey have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who does/does not go to museums, why they do/do not visit, and what that means for communities) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.
I respectfully acknowledge that I live and work on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people. I thank them for the care of this land, and I endeavor to help museums bring forward a more complete and inclusive history and culture in their work.