February already! Summer continues, cruise ships disgorge their passengers around the country, campervans are everywhere, and Chinese New Year holiday visitors are arriving. With school back this week, we’re getting into the year’s activities.
Opening this week is the new Waitangi Museum and long-awaited reopening of Christchurch Art Gallery, followed the week after by CoCA. Very different in origins and aims, the Waitangi and Christchurch openings are all encouraging signs that the value of museums to their various communities is being understood and supported.
MA and Local Government NZ are currently working on bringing together a range of voices and data to help quantify and articulate this value. Several recent and current initiatives are relevant.
This week Te Papa hosted an Australasian Visitor Research Forum, a day in which about 50 people from museums, galleries, zoos, outdoor amenities, universities and research agencies gathered to share perspectives and experience on understanding visitors. Similar annual forums have been recently in Australia, and this is the first time in Aotearoa. It is hoped that some of the presentations can be shared more widely, and that this dialogue continues, especially linking research and theory to practice in museums.
Another theory/practice symposium in Wellington this week explored research into intercultural dialogue and understanding generated through international exhibition exchange. Dr Lee Davidson (Vicotria University of Wellington) and her colleague Leticia Perez from Mexico have interviewed both visitors and museum staff involved in two touring shows in several countries: ‘E Tu Ake’ in Mexico, Quebec, Paris and Te Papa; and ‘Aztecs’ in Mexico, Te Papa, Melbourne and Sydney. The symposium was an excellent opportunity for some of those involved to share in the preliminary findings and extend the discussion into the broader area of cultural diplomacy. Such cross-disciplinary conversations are vital to encourage critical and innovative thinking and bring new energy into museum practice.
The importance of robust data to provide evidence of our work, especially to funders, came through in both these forums. MA is running our National Visitor Survey this month, and we encourage all museums and galleries to participate. The standardised methodology offers statistically reliable data to participating museums, which can then be used and viewed against the national aggregate. This annual snapshot provides vital baseline information to complement local data such as total visitation and qualitative feedback on exhibitions. It was referred to by several presenters at the Visitor Research Forum.
Information about the National Visitor Survey can be found here or by contacting email@example.com. We are looking for volunteers to help with interviewing across the country, and encourage staff – especially management – to take a turn as well. It’s amazing what insights you can get from talking directly to visitors. Talei and I are looking forward to helping out in some museums and galleries locally.
Back in the office its full steam ahead with MA16 conference and the 2016 ServiceIQ NZ Museum Awards.
Phillipa and Talei