Who attends the visual arts in Glasgow?

An outline of our research practice so far together with a summary of primary and secondary research findings was presented to our friends and partners at an event at Glasgow’s Common Guild on Friday 7 December 2012. Below is a snippet from the session…

What do we know about visual arts audiences?

The Household Survey, published biannually by Ipsos MORI and last updated in September/October 2011, groups ‘museums and galleries’ together to give an overall attendance figure of 45% of Glasgow’s population. TGI (Target Group Index) meanwhile breaks down ‘museums’ and ‘art galleries’ into separate categories with 38% and 33% attendance respectively – roughly equivalent to the proportion of the population attending pop and rock concerts.

Even at this top-line level, it’s clear that the audience for visual arts is broad, and that there is a need for further in-depth audience segmentation for any organisation wishing to work on developing and engaging its visitor constituency. As one interviewee from the sector remarked,

“Most people focus on the numbers, and it is difficult to get any qualitative feedback, … It is really difficult to hear what people think.”

The Household Survey reveals a fairly even split between male and female museum and gallery visitors, with all adult age groups, from 16+ to 65+, represented. Employed, unemployed and retired people; those with young families and those without all emerged as museum and gallery users. Whilst participation is wide-reaching, however, the Household Survey shows that motivations to visit (or factors influencing the decision not to visit) varies between men and women; those living in the least and most deprived areas of the city; those with children and those without.

Our face-to-face visitor research took place at 11 venues of all sizes and types, spread out across the city, and our research questions covered a range of broad areas. The responses we received challenged some common myths and assumptions around visitor behaviour and motivation: the extent to which programming influences decisions to attend museums and galleries, for instance, or the extent to which visitors are likely to be engaged in (or well informed about) art in their everyday lives and work.

When asked to classify themselves in terms of their relationship to art, a majority identified themselves as ‘enthusiasts’, and the most common reason for a visit to a museum or gallery was ‘to see the things on display in general’. Overall, audiences were more loyal than average performing arts audiences tend to be, with up to 1/3 of those who visited a venue more than once in a year, doing so 6–20 times.

By comparing our findings with similar research projects in London, Edinburgh and the Republic of Ireland, we have been able to identify audience traits and patterns that are common to the visual arts nationally, and those that are peculiar to Glasgow.

Drawing on the feedback that we received from gallery-goers across Glasgow and the issues highlighted by our conversations with representatives from the sector, we’re now shaping plans the next stage of the WhiteNOISE project, when we’ll be working to identify and implement specific audience growth initiatives in partnership with individual organisations, groups of organisations, and the city of Glasgow.

Get involved:

  • Sign up for our WhiteNOISE e-newsletter for all of our latest news, findings, and opportunities to participate;
  • Join us on 25 January for our next workshop event and help us shape the evolving WhiteNOISE programme – full event details TBC;
  • Ask us a question or share your thoughts here on our blog.
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