As we continue to explore leisure time, commitments, and relaxation (and what it means for museum time), we've learned that, well, it's complicated. The broader population is both more and less stressed when it comes to relaxation and getting things done during leisure time. Doing more during leisure time doesn't necessarily contribute to less relaxation (it depends). And leisure time commitments shift and change over life stage.
If we back up, however, what are some big conclusions that we can draw?
The Rule of Thirds
Let's take a look back at the graphic I shared earlier, focusing on the broader population side. Notice something? It breaks down roughly in thirds. That is, about a third of Americans are getting no relaxation during their leisure time, about another third are getting some, and a final third are relaxed and ready for a new week. (Sure, these numbers are not exact, but they are close enough when it comes to making it easy for you to remember. Interesting aside: the Rule of Thirds is something I see a lot of in my work when examining the broader population. I could/should write a book on this.)
More activities does not mean less relaxation.
The "Do Mores" who do more seem to cluster at "satisfied/somewhat relaxed." That is, those who do more are, surprisingly, more likely to get some relaxation than those that do less. Adding museum visits to the schedule doesn't necessarily mean less time to relax.
Additionally, the Do Mores are the most likely to visit museums; about a third of those who do four to five things in their leisure time, and over half of those who do seven or more things. This indicates that there are opportunities for museums to reach more "Do Mores" … especially if they begin to think of museums as relaxing places and/or places where they can accomplish multiple things at once.
Fewer activities does correlate with more stress.
Those who say they get no relaxation at all during their leisure time actually, on average, do fewer things during that time. Indeed, those who only do one or two activities during their leisure time are the least likely to feel they have any time to relax.
If your first reaction to that is "what the heck are they doing then?" you are not alone. That was my instinctive reaction as well, but it isn't a particularly understanding/thoughtful reaction because, as we all know, life is more complicated than that. Time constraints are only one stressor in our lives. We have to keep in mind that there are many other stressors that affect this response, including financial, family medical and health issues, job pressures, etc.
Additionally, for non-visitors, a visit to museum may be too our-of-the-ordinary to not feel stressful as well. What do I mean? Some studies have shown that people perceive places they know to be physically closer (and thus easier to get to) than places they don't know. It is human nature to travel further to go the grocery store we know than the closer one we don't know. We'll even say the known grocery store is closer, when actually it is further! If we do that, then think how far away a museum feels to a person who hasn't been to a museum since a fourth-grade field trip. Even if they pass by one every day. Combine that with those potential stressors we don't know about (but matter deeply), and it becomes much easier to see why museums don't fit into more people's lives.
A Word About Parents
Which brings us to parenting, relaxation (or lack thereof) and museums. Parents don't find museums relaxing.
Let me repeat that. Parents don't find museums relaxing.
The research already shows that parents over-index among those who feel they have zero time to relax. Now consider taking a three-year-old who is in the middle of toilet training to a museum. (Especially if the museum only has automatic toilets; ARGH! Just thinking about that in my not-so-distant past stresses me out, and you know I'm as passionate as they get about museums.)
So when we ask parents to consider visiting museums with their children, or to visit more often, we are asking parents for a lot. Because the research also shows (as I'll share later this summer) that museum-going parents find visiting museums to be about equal parts pain and pleasure. If that's what museum-going parents say, I shudder to consider how casual and non-visitors might respond. Additionally, parents rarely tell me that they find museums relaxing. By and large, it simply doesn't come up.
Clearly, then, there are opportunities to reach more people effectively, and challenges to reach everyone. We knew that already, but this work begins to frame what those challenges are through the leisure time/relaxation lens. Other constraints will be studied in more detail in the 2019 Annual Survey.
Next up: a deeper dive on parents.
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.