The leisure time crunch. It's what parents experience on most weekends … a list of things that need to get done, children to keep an eye on, children to shuttle around, and then falling into bed, exhausted. As shared earlier, 45% of museum-going parents report they get zero relaxation during leisure time.
So if you have a busy family, and exhausted parents, where do museums fit in? Are museums an obligation, something one does for children (just like all good parents do), or is visiting fun and relaxing? And how does all of this affect what parents think about the impact of museums?
Let's take a look at what parents said in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, and try to sort this out.
First, the bad news. Exhausted parents are more critical museum visitors. Compared to parents who felt more relaxed at the end of the weekend, exhausted parents were:
I'm not surprised. I have those weekends too, and they make me crabby as well. Sometimes the idea of an "enrichment" activity for my kids makes me want to go hide under the covers. So it is no wonder that, for many museum-going parents, museums are seen as yet something else to fit in, and thus somewhat painful to visit.
The Pain/Pleasure Index
So how painful is it really to visit museums? To find out, I asked parents if visiting museums was more work or more pleasure. Respondents were given a slider, and asked to choose where visiting museums fell, which turned into a numeric score for me (which was then easy for me to average across segments; thus, if 100% of respondents said "total pleasure", the score would be 100, while a score of 0 would mean 100% of respondents said "hard work").
Overall, parents scored museums a 55 … only slightly more pleasurable than painful. Not a great result. Two factors were most likely to affect the score:
But then it gets more interesting. The more parents visit, the more likely they are to consider museums "hard work." Additionally, those recurring visitors (especially with younger children) are more critical of museums and have generally more negative responses overall. (Note the opposite is true among those who are not parents of minor children: then, more visits then equals happier visitors.)
The pattern, then, is of stressed, high-visitation rate parents who feel obliged to visit museums in order to provide their children with enrichment and learning, but just are too exhausted to enjoy it themselves.
Since these stressed-out parents are nearly half of museum-going parents, and it isn't like the other half are relaxed and engaged 100% of the time either, it begs the question: what can museums do to make visiting museums a stress reducer in parents' lives? How can we be a solution in their lives, not just one more thing to cram in?
And if we can figure this out, would it make visiting museums more appealing for casual and non-visitors as well?
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.