Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG)

The cultural value of engaging with museums and galleries

The project

Whilst recent decades have produced a relatively consistent and compelling body of data around use and participation in museums and galleries - generating a degree of consensus amongst policymakers, funders and practitioners around demographic patterns and trends in visiting - there is much less consensus around what we know about the value of this engagement. Numerous studies (using a range of methods and shaped by a variety of motivations) have set out to describe, understand, measure and evidence what it is that people value about museum and gallery visiting, what benefits accrue from engagement and participation and what longer term impacts result from this engagement for individuals and society more broadly. However, there has been no systematic attempt to draw together and critically assess this body of research in order to build a clear understanding of what these diverse studies and approaches tell us, what gaps exist and what future research directions are needed.

The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries conducted a critical review of the existing body of research in the UK about the value of visiting museums and galleries. Through interrogating the data, it sought to better understand what distinguishes the experience of engaging with museums and galleries, how people express these experiences in value terms and what kind of difference encounters with museums and galleries make.

The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries was part of an AHRC-funded three-year Cultural Value Project which sought to establish a framework that will advance the way in which we talk about the value of cultural engagement and the methods by which we evaluate that value.

The project ran for four months, from February – June 2014.


Museums and galleries are under greater pressure than ever before to demonstrate their social and cultural value. Although a variety of studies on the value of visitor engagement in museums and galleries have been carried out in the past, research is diffuse and lacks critical assessment. There has also been a lack of consensus among museum practitioners, policy makers and cultural commentators on the extent to which claims about the impact of museums and galleries can be supported.

This project summarised and evaluated the existing evidence base on the cultural value of visiting museums and galleries, working both with published research and perceptions of it among stakeholders and research users. The aim was to help establish a coherent research agenda to direct attention to gaps in knowledge and understanding, and point to methodological approaches that are likely to yield new insights in the future.


In order to critically assess existing research and identify future directions the project:

  • Reviewed studies conducted within the UK and abroad on the value of visiting museums and galleries
  • Gauged perceptions of this body of research among key stakeholders and research users in order to identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as trends and future directions
  • Critically analysed methodologies and frameworks used in previous studies to identify areas for future research
  • Tested and validated key findings with key stakeholders and practitioners
  • Disseminated main findings

Research outputs

Cultural Value - User value of museums and galleries: a critical view of the literature (PDF, 382KB), by Carol Scott, Jocelyn Dodd and Richard Sandell.

Blog post from Carol Scott about the project The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries.

Linked publications

The AHRC’s three-year Cultural Value Project involved 70 original pieces of work, which provide an in-depth attempt to understand the difference made by arts and culture. Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture (2016) by Professor Geoffrey Crossick and Dr Patrycja Kaszynska draws together the outcomes from the project, presents how we think about the value of the arts and culture to individuals and society, and explores the methodologies we can use for capturing cultural value.

Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture (2016) (PDF, 3,767KB)

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