One of the things I look at is what I call "museum omnivorousness." That is, how many different museums does an individual or family visit in the course of a year?
Why? It is an indicator of an intrinsic motivation for learning, as those with strong intrinsic motivations tend to go to more museums, more often. More museums theoretically means more engagement, more connection, more impact (and the data does, generally, bear this out).
Overall, in my 2017 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, about 30% of respondents said they visited five or more different museums/year. Statistically, if we are considering this the "avid museum-goer" category (which would be fair enough), that means "avid museum-goers" are visiting a different museum less than once every two months on average. In some ways, sure, that's a lot of time in museums. But in others, not so much. (Heck, there are some months my family does five different museums … and that's not even counting vacations. Granted, we are really weird.)
But there were differences within the data. Those responding to an art or history museum's survey showed more omnivorousness (and more intrinsic motivation as well) than those responding to a children's museum or a science center.
Why? As you'll see in a few weeks, it pretty much boils down to the extrinsic motivations of what I call "The Parent Bubble," which disproportionately visits children's museums and science centers.
There is something else to keep in mind: these are regular museum-goers, connected enough with museums to receive regular communications from at least one museum, to visit that museum repeatedly, and perhaps to be a member or donor. When I run the data for the broader population of American adults, the number is way lower: a mere 4%. If museums are going to be deeply relevant to more people, it looks like our work is cut out for us.
A note about fielding research. I hold dear the idea that research for the field, about the field, should be shared with the field. But that only works when museums work together to make it possible. Since individual museums are needed to field this work, the survey also benefits participating museums on an individual level by providing benchmark data on visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographic questions … all of which can then be tracked over time in the future. Participating museums are also allowed to add 1 - 2 custom questions specific to their needs.
Which means if you value this research, want more of it in the coming years, and want to track your own museum's progress over time, please support this work by enrolling your museum in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum Goers. The fee for 2018 is only $1,000 per museum.
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.