Museum Programming Not Aligned With Visitor Preferences, Study Suggests

A new study is driving home the need for museums to make programming decisions according to visitor feedback and preferences.

The research, published by the National Center For Arts Research, looked at 4,946 museum and cultural organizations across the U.S. from 2010 to 2013.

The data shows an inverse relationship between an increase in program offerings and an 11 percent decline in participating visitors. This means that at the precise time U.S. museums and cultural organizations were vamping up their programs to appeal to the public, less people actually visited their institutions.

So what gives? How is it that museums and cultural institutions got it so wrong?

museum programming
A new study reveals that U.S. museums are not creating programs that drive more visitors.

The researchers offer several key insights to explain the mismatch between supply and demand.

They speculate that new programs may be taken on for mission-fulfillment purposes, while ignoring the need to attract new visitors. Secondly, it’s possible that funders are underplaying an organization’s need to make current programs more appealing to visitors.

But most importantly, the researchers suggest there might be a strategy gap between the departments responsible for visitor programming and visitor outreach. Essentially, this means that museums and cultural institutions are not creating programs that are aligned with the likes and dislikes of their current or potential visitors. It’s a sad reality considering how easy it is to understand visitor preferences using visitor surveys.

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The study also shows that digital engagement at art museums grew considerably from 2010 to 2013. There was a 28 percent growth in the number of visitors who interacted digitally during that period. Other research shows when visitors engage with digital technology it improves a museum’s reputation and increases attendance.

What are your thoughts on the findings of this study? Tell us in the comments below.

Sources: CCCB, National Center for Arts Research

Shereen Dindar
Shereen Dindar was a Content Manager at QuickTapSurvey in 2015 and 2016. Have a story idea? Email us at