Visitor research advice for Hawke's Bay museums

By Lynne Carmichael, Sector Services Officer, National Services Te Paerangi

Earlier this year Hastings City Art Gallery approached National Services Te Paerangi with a request for advice on visitor research. They were looking for ideas and different approaches to collecting information about their visitors. Before joining National Services Te Paerangi, I worked for over 5 years as a Researcher in Te Papa’s Visitor and Market Research Department, so I was pleased to be able to pay them a visit as part of our Expert Knowledge Exchange programme. Expert Knowledge Exchanges are an opportunity for you to have an expert visit your organisation and offer knowledge and advice to enhance your team’s knowledge base.

This was my first chance to get ‘out on the road’ since joining National Services Te Paerangi last year, and I saw it as a great opportunity to meet the staff at both Hastings City Art Gallery and MTG Hawke’s Bay, and to learn more about the day to day running of regional institutions.

hcagHastings City Art Gallery

After a tour around Hastings City Art Gallery and an introduction to the staff, Director Toni MacKinnon and I started by discussing the information they currently have about their visitors – mostly visitor numbers and observational information on the age, gender and make up of visiting groups. They were in the middle of collecting data for the biannual Museums Aotearoa Sector Survey and so were interested to discuss how this data could be used to compare their visitors with similar institutions around the country. We examined how a simplified version of the survey could form a regular way of collecting visitor information for reporting and exhibition planning purposes.

I then talked about various other approaches they could consider for connecting with their public, not only to find out more about what they liked (or didn’t) about their exhibition programme, but to start to investigate why some sections of the community do not currently engage with the gallery and how that could be changed.

They were also interested in working with their colleagues at MTG Hawke’s Bay in Napier, to better understand visitation patterns to the region and how they could possibly collaborate. So the next day I went to MTG Hawke’s Bay to meet Director Laura Vodanovich. This visit also started with a tour of the galleries and display spaces that recently underwent extensive redevelopment.

mtg hb

MTG Hawke’s Bay

An understanding of visitors’ behaviours and preferences based on sound research is vital for an institution to benchmark their endeavours against, and to inform decisions about exhibitions, engagement programmes and outreach activities. Based on my professional experience I was able to offer Hastings City Art Gallery and MTG Hawke’s Bay pragmatic solutions, propose resources they could investigate, and suggest longer term approaches to plan for.

If your museum, gallery or cultural centre could benefit from understanding more about visitor research and why people choose to involve themselves with your institution, then please contact me to discuss.