How well do you know your audiences?

    10.07.2018 by Jerome Turner

    Whilst smARTplaces is a project about the impact of ‘digital’ in the cultural sector, we have also been interested, in our research, to think about how well museums and galleries really ‘know’ their audiences. Whilst practices such as developing personas can help organisations understand their audiences as belonging to certain groups or subcultures, there is a danger it falls into assuming stereotypes. Beyond what we might know about them on a basic, quantitative level of collecting data about age, sex, home address, etc (although that of course has value), how might we better know them as people, as you might know a friend? If you work at a museum, on a curatorial level or are otherwise involved in installing exhibitions or events, when was the last time you were afforded time to hang around and really observe people in the space, or even better, stop and talk to them? How did they get to your event today? How did they find out about it? Which members of their family came, and which didn’t – surely we’re keen to ensure people come to our events, it is also important to know why some people don’t. What factors were really appealing? If it was as much about the canteen menu or disabled facilities as it was the artwork itself, be open to hearing that too. Pierre Bourdieu (1977) famously suggested that we respond to situations through a formation of habitus, ingrained behaviours, tastes and attitudes established from myriad social inputs throughout our lives – not just age, class or gender, but more nuanced factors such as upbringing, friendships, and key experiences. What could you do in your institution to better understand those factors that lead individuals through your doors?

    Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.