Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Factors Influencing African American Leisure Time Utilization of Museums

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Factors Influencing African American Leisure Time Utilization of Museums

Article excerpt

Visiting museums is a common leisure time activity in America.(1) A recent American Association of Museums report (1992) estimated that 565.8 million people visited museums in 1988. Some people visit museum-like settings frequently (4 or more times per year); many people visit occasionally (once or twice per year); and many others not at all (Gudykunst, Morra, Kantor & Parker, 1981; Hood, 1983; Pollock, Finn, Garfield, Snyder & Pfenning, 1983; Balling & Cornell, 1985; Robinson, Keegan, Karth & Triplett, 1986; DiMaggio & Ostrower, 1990). A number of studies suggest that most African Americans fall into one of the two latter groups (Robinson, et al., 1986; DiMaggio & Ostrower, 1990; Birney, 1990; Doering & Black, 1989; ASTC-AAAS, 1987; American Museum of Natural History, 1977, 1986; Kaplan & Talbot, 1988; Bickford, Doering & Smith, 1992; Horn & Finney, 1994). This study represented an effort to better understand the factors that influence African American use or non-use of museums as leisure resources.

Factors Influencing Museum Going Behavior

Numerous settings for leisure exist and these are perceived by the public as affording a range of non-equivalent benefits. Four major factors can be defined which contribute to museum going being selected as a leisure time experience by the public: socio-economic; institutional; cultural/ethnic and regional.

Socio-Economic Factors

Gudykunst, Morra, Kantor & Parker (1981) determined that museum going appealed to those individuals seeking a "cultural or intellectual" orientation in a leisure setting; an orientation strongly associated with higher levels of education and occupation. Several investigators have linked leisure activities to social and educational class (e.g., Mather, 1941; Clarke, 1956; Cicchetti, 1972; Cunningham, Montoye, Metzner & Kelly, 1970; Dixon, Courtney & Bailey, 1974; Burdge, 1969; DiMaggio & Ostrower, 1990). Studies at a variety of museums have determined that museum visitors were of higher than average education and income level (Cheek, et al, 1976; Balling & Cornell, 1985; Hood, 1988; Doering & Fronville, 1988; Doering & Black, 1989; Bickford, Doering & Smith, 1992). The 1985 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (Robinson, et al., 1986) found strong correlations between art museum attendance and education and income -- the higher the education and income, the greater the level of visitation.

There are data, though, that tend to suggest education and income may not be the only factors at work. Marketing research carried out by American Visions magazine showed that well educated, affluent African Americans were less likely than comparably educated and affluent white Americans to support cultural activities (Puckrein, 1991). A number of leisure researchers have openly disputed the importance of socio-economic variables in influencing leisure behavior (Kelly, 1974; 1978; Edwards, 1981).

Institutional Factors

Museums are not passive institutions; their actions and the public's perceptions of those actions, influence who visits and who does not visit. At the most basic level, museums contain differing types of information and objects; zoos afford different learning opportunities than art museums and hence attract or repel different types of visitors (cf., Falk & Dierking, 1992; Falk, 1993). Less obvious though, is the fact that historical and present day institutional policies, including such seemingly benign policies as operating hours and pricing and such not-so-benign policies as (historical) segregation and exclusion, overtly or covertly influence who visits (West, 1989; Wicks & Crompton, 1990; Jones, 1983). In some cases, it is not necessarily the institution itself, but the neighborhood in which the museum is located which influences utilization (T. Washington, personal communication, April 1991).

Another critical "institutional" variable determining museum visitation is how individuals learn about the institution. …

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