Recent posts on this blog have focused on the extensive work we did with students, but that was only one component of our research.
For historic house museums, expanding audiences is imperative, and that is going to entail new methods of sharing the stories of the past. But it is also important to better understand current history audiences, what really motivates them to explore history, what sparked that interest to begin with, and how much we can push the envelope with new interpretation methods.
To find out, we delved into some significant qualitative work with 59 Connecticut Cultural Consumers, recruited from a list of survey respondents from a 2008 study Reach Advisors did with 24 Connecticut organizations for Connecticut Landmarks, and funded by Connecticut Humanities. These individuals are all what we would call cultural consumers, and on the email list of one or more Connecticut cultural organizations. They enjoy culture (including history), proactively seek it out, and support it.
So let’s be absolutely clear. This group is what I would call “the choir.” They are the converted, and if you grew up in the South, like I did, you know that “preaching to the choir” means validating what they know and not necessarily converting any new individuals.
But that’s OK. In fact, we recruited them knowing that this is who we would have in our panel, and we balanced our research with individuals who are certainly not “the choir.” Additionally, even the converted can tell us a lot about why people enjoy history, how they enjoy experiencing it and learning about it, and how we might do a better job sharing history with more people.
This group of individuals was amazing. Each week we posed about two really substantive questions of them. Meaty, sometimes hard questions that challenged them, made them think, and sometimes even changed what they thought they knew about themselves and their enjoyment of history. They responded with extremely detailed, thought-provoking, lengthy responses that were, for us, enlightening, funny, sad, and tremendously useful. We were extremely humbled by how generous they were with their time and thoughts.
Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing some of the highlights from this wonderful panel.
Susie Wilkening is a Senior Consultant and Curator of Museum Audiences at Reach Advisors. She is leading several phases of audience research for this project.