As we have all heard (and/or experienced), the current audience for many history museums is not particularly diverse. A 2010 study by Reach Advisors of 15,790 visitors at 40 U.S. history museums found that 78% of adult respondents held college degrees (vs. 28% of total U.S. population), their median household income was $80,000 (compared to the U.S. average of $52,000), and perhaps most significantly, they were 95% white (compared to 66% of the total population). While Americans age 60-69 made up about 12% of the population in 2010, 26% of survey participants represented this age range. 18 to 29-year-olds made up only 4% of museum visitors, but formed 22% of the population in 2010. In the coming years, this group of “history core visitors” (as described by Reach Advisors) will veer even further from the average demographic makeup of the United States. For preservation agencies, nonprofit groups, and museums alike, it can be a struggle to attract and engage with more diverse audiences.
So, how do we create programs, exhibitions, and tours that are more inclusive and accessible to new visitors—while still maintaining our loyal current audience? How has this noteworthy disparity between history core visitors and the general population influenced your organization’s mission, vision, or operations? What strategies have you embraced, adopted, or created (or just heard about) to address this concern? What nuggets of wisdom can you share with others who seek to reach a broader range of individuals? What museums/organizations can we turn to as examples? This is certainly not an original topic for discussion—I believe sessions have touched upon this issue at all of the previous Bmore Historic unconferences—but this remains a pressing question for many history organizations.
On a related note, and perhaps something we could discuss at this session (or perhaps it’s worth exploring elsewhere): the History Relevance Campaign (HRC) is a grassroots movement of public historians who seek to demonstrate the value of history in the 21st century. Rather than minimizing the importance of STEM, members of HRC seek to show how the study of history is just an important. Effective branding is certainly one element of this campaign, but there are no doubt other ways that we can build awareness and understanding of the value of history. How does the work of HRC overlap with the demographic issues mentioned above? How can we work in partnership to enhance each other’s work, and not duplicate efforts? Where do you fit into this movement?