6 April, 2018
People go less and less to museums: a NEA¹ study and this article from The Guardian analyse the decline of visitors in countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, visitors’ rhythm to museums and heritage centres hasn’t stopped growing during the last years in Barcelona: from 2010 to 2016, visits have increased by 49%, going from 17’5 millions to 21’6².
In spite of the total visitors’ good figures in Barcelona, reality is disparate among the different centres: La Sagrada Família, La Pedrera or Barça Museum take away the lion’s share as they represent emblematic points of touristic attraction, and have seen their visitors exponentially rise, and this has marked the general tendency of the sector.
Other centres that can boast about maintaining an equilibrated volume of foreign and local public, like MNAC, have also been able to improve their number of visitors. But the truth is that not all centres can say the same. In fact, from a social point of view, the sector doesn’t consider the situation satisfactory, as the cultural manager Xavier Fina points out in this article from the Catalan newspaper Ara who believes that “there’s the pending subject of bonding with citizens”.
The fact that locals are not going that often to museums anymore could be explained by the lack of interest for art and culture. Or it could be explained by a phenomenon much more transversal and obvious: people have a harder time going out. In a world where anything can be bought online and restaurant menus are available from the couch, it’s predictable that a lot of people don’t wish to leave the comfort of their homes if it’s not to experience something more interesting than a mere formality. So, visiting a place nowadays, should be synonym of living what it’s called “an experience”.
For instance, let’s look at shopping malls: after years of a continuous decrease in visitors, a lot of them have stopped being just places with stores to become ludic centres where people can even go to the gym. Places where, ultimately, people can do a lot more things than by staying at home.
Then, it’s precisely to assign a higher degree of complexity in the rethinking that museums and heritage centres have to carry out in this digitalised world, since these are organisations with a deep commitment of service to society and cannot “simply” focus exclusively on demand. Museums cannot become updated without facing the danger of commodification.
Anyhow, improving accessibility to museums and heritage centres is also a matter of survival and, fortunately, there’s a wide range of options to achieve it, which revolve around visitors behaviour analysis and that in any case go against the artistic values and social function criteria.
For instance, counting people to analyse the rhythms of influxes and to reduce waiting lines and waiting times is a very important first step that centres can take to improve the visitors’ experience. Who would like to leave the comfort of their home in exchange for shoving and agglomerations?
Valuing the acceptance of temporal exhibitions from automatic people counting and visits’ duration is also an important measure that can be undertaken to improve the prioritisation of the different artistic proposals. And furthermore, to analyse the paths of visits is a tool that allows to improve the different elements layout.
During the last months, a lot of museums and heritage centres of our country have been including the necessary technology to understand visitors behaviour in an objective and non-intrusive manner: MACBA, CCCB, Palau de la Música, the modernist building of Sant Pau Hospital or Dalí Museum among others. We’re happy that we’re able to help them in this process!
¹ National Endowment for the Arts (federal agency from the United States of America)
² Source: Barcelona City Council, Visitors to museums and exhibition spaces in the city of Barcelona