Museums and Their Visitors

By Eilean Hooper-Greenhill | Go to book overview

6

Responding to visitor needs

When thinking about responding to visitor needs, it is important to remember the multi-ethnic nature of modern society. Most cities and towns are made up of a range of different communities with different cultures, first languages and religions. Although many of the needs discussed below, such as those of families or the elderly, are common to all peoples, each community has its own social and cultural patterns. Surveys of museum users in Britain show that unless exhibitions and displays are related to specific areas of interest, such as Caribbean art, or Chinese homes (Hemmings, 1992), visits from minority groups are rare. This is also true of museums in other parts of the world and it is fair to say that all museums and galleries need to improve their provision to include all sections of society (James, 1991).

There is evidence that people from different backgrounds have different perceptions and interests in relation to museum exhibitions. An exhibition opening at the Field Museum in Chicago on the cultures and natural history of Africa has been planned following considerable preliminary research. It was discovered that African-Americans were more interested in the idea of the exhibition than whites or other people of colour. Where people were enthusiastic, there was considerable variation in the degree of interest in specific topics between the three groups. For example, African-Americans were more interested in the people and the culture and less interested in animals and wildlife, while whites and people of colour were interested in animals and wildlife. White people were interested in tribal aspects of culture and lifestyle, but the other two groups were less interested in this topic. The exhibition will build on the common areas of interest and will address the stereotypes uncovered in the research (Simpson, 1992b).

Museums and galleries have a public duty to make provision for all parts of society. This means being aware of the nature of the potential audiences for the museum, and taking care to mount exhibitions and displays that interest as broad a range of groups as possible. Where exhibition topics fall outside the expertise of the curator, if, for example the histories of black groups are being told, or objects related to Arabic languages are displayed, or the story of European migrants is the theme, it is vital to ask for help and advice from members of the groups concerned. When this is not done, much offence may

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Museums and Their Visitors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Plates ix
  • Figures xi
  • Tables xiii
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Forces for Change 6
  • 2 - Communication in Theory and Practice 35
  • 3 - Who Goes to Museums? 54
  • 4 - Research and Evaluation 69
  • 5 - Welcoming Visitors 84
  • 6 - Responding to Visitor Needs 100
  • 7 - Language and Texts 115
  • 8 - Museums: Ideal Learning Environments 140
  • 9 - Managing Museums for Visitors 171
  • Glossary 183
  • Bibliography 185
  • Index 198
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