Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG)

Addressing the museum attendance and benefit gap: inequality, representative participation and implementation science

Survey data on who visits museums and decades of research in cultural sociology internationally tell us that museum visiting reflects the socio-economic gradient, closely tracking inequalities in education, income, employment, mental health and other indicators of social wellbeing. Despite the scale of existing evidence, including evidence that the attendance and benefit gap may be increasing, government policy, professional guidance and research undertaken by museums themselves continue with little or no recognition of this wider context and macro data and, as a result, have failed to develop sustainable evidence-based solutions to address inequalities in museum attendance and benefit.

To move beyond ‘intuitive’ approaches to inequality and social change, make credible claims about their contribution to society and positively impact deeply entrenched and unequal patterns of attendance and benefit, museums need new knowledge, new strategies and significant analytical support.

This Network explores the hypothesis that a deeper understanding within museums and museology of (1) the nature and experience of inequality and (2) how large-scale social and behaviour change is approached in other fields, such as health, would open up the capacity in museums and amongst museum scholars to understand, theorise, design, implement, evaluate and sustain practices which may address the attendance and benefit gap.

It brings social science scholars with deep expertise in inequality, poverty and low educational attainment, experts in culture and health, public health, epidemiology and cultural attendance and scholars of Implementation Science with expertise in rigorous approaches to intervention development and harnessing research towards large-scale change, into dialogue with museum leaders committed to representative participation and research-led practice, cultural policy makers and museum scholars.

Timetable of Activities

Workshop 1, 24 October 2023 | Understanding Inequality: the primacy of Low Educational Attainment as a predictor of non-attendance

Location: Thinktank, Millennium Point, Curzon St, Birmingham B4 7XG

This workshop focuses on the sociology of inequality and low educational attainment and explores this in relation to the data sets on museum attendance such as the Taking Part Survey and the intuitive understandings of inequality that drive museum practice. Focused on understanding the data and the increasing attendance and benefit gap, it will interrogate the specific contexts and local situations within which interventions developed by museums play out by utilising data from one of the partner museum to build a live case study.

Keynote talks will be open to the public (24 October 2023, 10:30-12:45).

  • Keynote 1: Understanding InequalityProfessor Henrietta O’Connor, University of Leicester
  • Keynote 2: Inequality, education and the working classesProfessor Diane Reay, University of Cambridge
  • Discussion: What do these understandings of inequality and educational attainment tell us? 5 minute responses from museums, sociology and museum studies Sara Wajid/BMT, Mark Taylor, Janet Dugdale, Tony Butler, Janice Lane, Theano Moussouri

To attend in person, please RSVP using this form. Alternatively, you can find details to join the livestream virtually.

Workshop 2, January 2024 | Understanding Inequality: Poverty as a predictor of non-attendance (TBA)

Workshop 3, April 2024 | Understanding Health Inequalities: What evidence to trust? (TBA)

Workshop 4, July 2024 | Building Sustainable Change (TBA)

Workshop 5, October 2024 | Weaving the threads together (TBA)

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