Museums and galleries already attract visitors from a broad spectrum and many institutions wish to become more appealing to groups that tend to be under-represented at present. This means that the actual and potential range of visitors to museums is vast. How can museums respond to the needs of all? There are a number of strategies that can be used to begin to unravel the needs of this vast mass of people.
The first thing is to understand that ‘the public’ can be broken down into constituent groups which tend to have at least some characteristics in common. The concept of target groups’, borrowed from market research theory, is a useful one. All visitors will have a variety of physical, intellectual and social needs in common, while equally all groups will have their own special needs. Making provision for common needs, and reviewing the museum experience from the point of view of each target group, will go a long way towards enabling most people to enjoy museums. It is important to remember that the concept of target groups is used as an inclusive, not an exclusive, measure (Dickerson, 1991).
Within the total potential audience for museums and galleries we will find a span of learning experiences and aptitudes. Some will be beginners, and some will be capable scholars. Not all beginning or novice learners are children: nearly all adults are novices at something, and it might just be the subject matter of the exhibition that is being visited! Even those who are very capable specialists in one particular area may not be familiar with the subject matter being addressed. Strategies are necessary in exhibitions, presentations and publications to make the basic parameters of the subject matter visible and accessible quickly and easily. This is not ‘talking down’ to the audience. This is laying out the conceptual framework of the topic for basic intellectual orientation.
People relate to the world in a whole variety of different ways according to the range of their different intelligences, their social and cultural background and their life experience. It is difficult to predict specific communicative techniques for specific types of people, but offering a range of techniques across a broad spectrum will enable people to choose the most appropriate mode for them.