Think back to the last weekend (or time off) that you consider "typical." I bet you were pretty busy, weren't you? Chores and errands, time with family or friends, maybe you had a nice meal. Did you catch up on sleep? Check your work email? Maybe even binge watch something on Netflix?
Did you go to a museum? Be honest here … work doesn't count.
And at the end of that weekend or time off, how did you feel? Did you get everything done? Did you feel relaxed? Even a little?
The thing is, I bet you were busy, packing in a lot of things during two short days. Maybe a museum made the cut, but statistically speaking, probably not. Sometimes it is hard to fit in that museum visit. Life simply gets in the way.
Yet we want museums to be an attractive and realistic option for people in our communities. That means we have to have a strong understanding of how different segments of the population typically spend their leisure time now, so we can understand how museums do, and do not, fit in. It also means understanding the opportunities and responsibilities that people have, which may make visiting a museum more appealing, feel like yet more work to get done, or a virtual impossibility.
To begin to suss all of this out I included a short series of leisure-time questions in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers as well as a broader population comparison sample (mostly non-visitors to museums, as well as casual visitors and a small number of avid museum-goers).
Respondents were asked to think back to the last weekend (or time off) they considered "typical," and indicate the things they did. (They could also write in additional activities.) They were then asked to consider how they felt at the end of the weekend.
Quantity of Activities
I like to say that "the do mores do more." It's a spin on "if you want something done, ask a busy person."
Avid museum-goers as well as casual visitors are clearly the do mores, averaging 4.3 activities in their typical weekend. And the more museums people go to, the more they do on a typical weekend; those who visited only one or two museums in the last year averaged 4.1 activities while those who visited five or more averaged 4.7 activities. Museum-goers are busy!
The sample of non-visitors, however, was rather different; they averaged only 2.4 activities, even when museum attendance is controlled for. (Similarly, the number of activities goes up with educational attainment.)
This tells us that museum-goers are leading more jam-packed lives when it comes to the quantity of things they have to get done PLUS the things they want to get done during non-working time. But I do want to be careful here that this doesn't imply that people who don't visit museums, or those with lower educational attainment, have more time available that museums could fill. It is more complicated than that, in ways that go beyond what my surveys measure. At this point, we are simply assessing leisure time activities, not work obligations, health constraints, or any number of other things that affect leisure time and the choices an individual makes for that time.
But Did They Relax?
In perhaps one of the most discouraging findings I've ever seen, the number of Americans, museum-goers or not, that report at the end of the weekend they are "relaxed and ready for a new week" is depressingly low.
I happen to think that this is a health issue. The fact that so few of us get full relaxation is a problem, and that over a third of the population does not feel a bit relaxed is even more of a problem. This implies our stressful lives are an ever-constant for too many. Or, as one person wrote in, "[this is a] silly question. We are all stressed."
Even worse, I am only capturing this through the lens of time constraints. That is, I'm not capturing economic pressures, family health crises or chronic conditions, job stress, or other internal or external constraints or anxieties that prevent us from having time to take care of ourselves.
Additionally, my findings are reflected by recent polling done by the American Psychiatric Association, which shows that anxiety is increasing among Americans, noting that the repercussions are a physiological health threat as well as a mental health one.
All of these findings beg some key questions, namely:
I'll address some of these questions in my next few posts.
Do you value this research? Does it help you in your work at your museum? Do you want it to continue to help you and our field?
If so, consider how useful it would be to know how your museum's stakeholders feel about your museum, lifelong learning in museums, and more. By enrolling your museum in the 2019 Annual Survey of Museum Goers, you can easily benchmark the visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographics of your stakeholders. Additionally, you can compare your results to your peers, begin to track them over time, and gain far more contextual information through your custom results and report. The fee for 2019 is only $1,000 per museum.
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.