London, 18 July 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA).
Financing problems in the cultural domain often impede a museum’s normal functioning and also endanger its survival. The study carried out by Shabbar Jaffry and Alexandros Apostolakis, published in the 1st November 2011 issue of the Journal of Cultural Economics under the title “Evaluating Individual Preferences for the British Museum” suggests that cultural resources raise funds within museums through voluntary contributions in order to address part of the public funding deficit. With this case study administered at the British Museum, researchers propose identifying individual preferences as a future managerial initiative which would potentially impact visitor willing to finance cultural resources through voluntary contributions given during museum visits.
The study assumes that two types of heterogeneity exist – the observed and the unobserved – to obtain a more diverse spectrum in regards to any given individual’s decision-making process. The study also explains the theoretical context behind the 2007 survey, which was administered outside the British Museum where two researchers had distributed 500 questionnaires to visitors. The study has led to specific findings which could serve to widen and deepen the cultural and artistic participation of the public at large.
In a world where public funding is limited, artistic and cultural management is crucial and undoubtedly represents a means of survival for institutions. The objective was to find new methods to increase the revenue of museums by using their own resources, which would therefore resolve deficit problems. The two researchers did not base their work on judicious pricing policy. To the contrary, they believe the key can be found in visitors’ preferences and, more precisely, by integrating a number of socio-demographic variables as factors influencing an individual’s decision-making process. In this context, the study takes into consideration individual differences in taste to identify potential sources of heterogeneity within the population, while enabling managers to understand the different evolutionary sources within that population.
It is significant that the British government is encouraging cultural organisations to find new ways to increase their revenue so as to fund their own activities, such as attracting more private patrons or by generating more revenue through visitors’ voluntary contributions. Despite calls for greater attention to be paid to factors determining consumer satisfaction, recent studies have shown that consumer preferences have not been given much importance, especially in regards to the influence they have over decisions made by managers.
Based on the survey’s results, the researchers made a series of suggestions addressed to different departments of the British Museum. Firstly, expanding the museum’s opening hours would enable it to attract new visitors, become more accessible and improve the visiting experience. In regards to temporary exhibitions, attracting a wider audience would encourage potential visitors to also see the museum’s permanent exhibitions.
It is widely understood that information and communication technologies have changed the way contemporary museums function. Digitizing collections and using new technologies would enable the British Museum to attract a less traditional public, and the configuration of virtual reality tours could enrich the visiting experience even before the actual visit, thereby also being of service to non-visitors.
Secondly, investing in a larger staff – at all levels of the museum’s structure – and in for-profit and non-profit facilities management would expand the museum’s involvement in the greater community and improve its image. As for cultural activities and involvement, dividing such activities between London, the United Kingdom and throughout the world would generate supplementary revenue for the museum. Finally, the question of voluntary contributions also relates to entry fees and should target a price range which would adapt to that of other museums, such as the Louvre museum or the Hermitage museum.
The survey reaches the conclusion that it is less likely that visitors want to voluntarily contribute to the British museum unless certain improvements are made. At the same time, a large number of those surveyed favours an increase in temporary exhibitions, whereas most visitors believe that creating a larger information office would contribute to the museum’s good reputation. It is notable that 46% of those questioned visit the British Museum as a leisure activity; 10% of those visitors would be willing to pay €1.35 for hiring staff. However, frequent visitors to the museum were opposed to such a decision. Visitors and non-visitors to the British Museum would prefer more temporary exhibitions as well as more information on displayed works.
It should be mentioned that the study’s findings reveal that three segments exist on the side of demand: visitors who have or who have not visited the museum in the past three years, accidental visitors who have visited the museum for other reasons, and regular visitors who have visited the museum more than five times in the past three years. These three groups are composed of people with a range of priorities – an increase in temporary exhibitions was not favoured by all who were surveyed, for example. As a result, the museum should move towards segmentation to motivate potential visitors and increase the museum’s autonomous revenue. Additionally, the vast majority of irregular visitors enjoyed temporary exhibitions; as such exhibitions increased their interest to visit the rest of the British Museum in general – something that was not stated by regular visitors.
In regards to new technologies, those surveyed responded very positively to information and communication technologies made available within the museum. They stated a readiness to voluntarily contribute to the British Museum, on the condition that the museum develops a more engaging visiting experience. Inasmuch, developing more direct means of communication with the public seems necessary. It should be pointed out that visitors do not believe that their relationship with the museum ends after their visit. They would additionally appreciate a potential improvement of management for non-profit installations. As a result, the museum’s managers could establish a stronger relationship with visitors by treating them as valued clients.
Furthermore, among those surveyed – notably tourists and irregular visitors to the museum – many favourably view the setting up of an information office to improve service quality. For that purpose, the British Museum could promote its multilingual services and install networks with other cultural resources in the heart of London and in the surrounding areas. In general, visitors responded positively to a 10% to 20% increase in museum staff. However, regular museum visitors opposed the increase. It is clear that administrators should focus more on reinforcing the museum experience, as the lack in human resources seems to disappoint visitors. An improvement could transform the museum into a more welcoming and agreeable environment for the public.
The study not only examines the positive or negative reactions of surveyed individuals regarding certain managerial initiatives, but also made it possible to determine the size of each group. The conclusions drawn from the study provide solutions that could improve the conditions of any contemporary museum. It is important that those involved in museum management diversify their objective policies according to each type of visitor. Which of the three groups – regular visitors, tourists, and cultural visitors – are primarily concerned? Such a policy would move towards a development of long-term relations with visitors and put into practice programs intended to satisfy visitors across different incentive profiles.
In summary, the study offers museums the following solution: to combine public financing with revenues acquired through their own resources. In that context, expanding public participation would secure higher revenues, particularly due to potential voluntary contributions. The public would therefore play a more active role in the museum by becoming a crucial factor to its survival – and to its success.