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New survey highlights the value of museums during COVID-19

New survey highlights the value of museums during COVID-19
June 7, 2021

A survey released today by the Council of Australian Museum Directors found that 78 million visitors attended its 22 museums onsite or online over the past year reflecting the status of museums as being some of the most trusted institutions in society.

A recent report by Democracy 2025 (an initiative of the Museum of Australian Democracy and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra) revealed that 70% of Australians surveyed say they have a high degree of trust in cultural institutions, ranking higher than universities and the media, which is consistent with findings of similar studies of museums internationally.

According to Daryl Karp, Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy and Chair of Council of Australian Museum Directors (CAMD), which commissioned the survey, museums not only hold public trust, but they have also become places for important reflection in a pandemic-changed world.

Karp notes “museums are an important part of Australia’s creative and cultural landscape and make substantial contributions across economic, environmental, social and cultural domains. Time and again, museums have demonstrated their ability, not only to boost local economies, but also to bring people and communities together. Museums provide places for decompression, socialisation and an opportunity to explore new ideas, which is more important now than ever.

“Far beyond hubs of knowledge and culture, museums have also internationally been shown to support mental health by providing calming experiences, a sense of community and communication between families, among other benefits. These experiences extend beyond the physical walls of museums and cultural institutions, providing lifelong learning for the community through education and outreach programs, which were accessed by millions of visitors during the lockdown.

“As trusted sources in the community, museums serve as ‘safe places for unsafe ideas’ and provide platforms for difficult conversations on important issues like climate change and reconciliation.

“One way Australian museums and galleries are working to advance the reconciliation of Australia is through undertaking the Australian Museums and Galleries Association’s First Peoples: A Roadmap for Enhancing Indigenous Engagement in Museums and Galleries.”

The value and importance of museums has been demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many museums across the region experiencing increased visitation. The brand-new WA Museum Boola Bardip and the recently transformed Australian Museum have witnessed record attendance, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Australian Museum Director and Chief Executive, Kim McKay said the Australian Museum had seen more than double the usual number of people visit the renovated museum since reopening to the public on 28th November 2020. 400,000 visitors represents a record number of people for the nearly 200-year-old institution, despite the absence of tourists, who typically make up approximately 35% of visitors.

McKay added “there’s nothing like free general admission, combined with a pent-up desire to see the new spaces, and great special exhibitions to attract the public. These numbers affirm the important role of museums.”

Western Australian Museum Chief Executive Alec Coles, recently named as the 2021 Arts and Culture Western Australian of the Year, advised that the WA Museum engaged with more than 54,000 people to develop the content, themes and visitor experiences in the new WA Museum Boola Bardip and has seen record visitation of more than 460,000 in the six months since opening.

“We made a commitment from the very beginning to represent many diverse voices, many of whom had never been heard, let alone in this kind of institution. Museums are places that people tend to trust, where you can have some of these difficult conversations without the rancour and the bias that you see elsewhere. We want to encourage critical reflection and debate, to be a conduit for real stories, for healing, and ultimately, for truth.”

Auckland Museum Chief Executive Dr David Gaimster said that COVID-19 and resulting border closures have impacted the museum’s visitation, but due to digital engagement and the opening of two new museum spaces, the Museum is optimistic about future visitation.

Dr Gaimster shares “increasing numbers of Aucklanders have visited the Museum in FY 2020/21 and we are optimistic we will reach 500,000 visits by year end. This has been the result of maintaining a deliberately high online presence throughout periods of lockdown, and a compelling public offer with an international special exhibition and the opening of two new museum spaces since 1st December 2020.”

Image top: Australian Museum; image centre WA Museum Boola Bardip; and image above Auckland Museum 

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