Chap 6: ‘Building an Audience for the Twenty-First-Century Museum’ by Graham Black

This blog continues with an outline of my new book Museum Practice. In the last chapter in the section Graham Black is a strong advocate for ‘Building an audience for the 21st century museum.’ Writing from the direct experience as a consultant who has worked with many museums and heritage organisations, Black points out that, despite major shifts towards ‘people centred’ programming in many parts of the world, the rise in visitor numbers appears to conceal the fact that museum audiences may be larger but are not more diverse. Professionals sometimes think they are reaching out to new publics, Black contends, but actually the reality on the ground is often ‘more of the same’. Yet changing social patterns—demographic change, generational shift and the impact of new media—paint a picture of a very different audience in the coming century. In response Black surveys innovative work in a wide cross section of museums which are trying to engage with this audience, as well as hang on to the traditional audience, what he calls the “developing theory and practice of audience engagement.” He concludes that museums “need to get to know their audiences much better” and that “the changing expectations of audiences must lead to equal change in the nature of the museum experience.” Furthermore such change ”requires planning for the long term and sustained commitment.”


Graham Black is a Reader in Public History and Heritage Management at Nottingham Trent University, where he teaches on the MA program in Museum and Heritage Management. Graham is also a professional consultant with extensive experience in interpretation, exhibitions, and audience development work in galleries, museums, and heritage organizations in the UK. He is the author of The Engaging Museum (2005) and Transforming Museums in the Twenty First Century (2012):


About mccartco

Conal McCarthy has published widely on the historical and contemporary Māori engagement with museums, including the books Exhibiting Māori: A history of colonial cultures of display (2007) and Museums and Māori: Heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice (2011). His new book is Museum practice (2015) in the series International Handbooks of Museum Studies. This edited collection includes chapters on many aspects of current professional work from audience, leadership and policy to collections, exhibitions and conservation. His next book co-authored with Bronwyn Labrum of Massey University will explore history of/in museums.
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