12 June 2017 // Thoughts

Past Reflections and Future Strategies: Five Years of the TEA/AECOM Museum Index

Last week, we analyzed the findings of the 2016 Theme Index, published by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and economic feasibility firm, AECOM. Today, we celebrate the fifth year of the Index’s inclusion of museums in their global attendance analysis and break down the challenges and opportunities facing cultural institutions today.

Attendance at Le Louvre fell 14% due to an overall decrease in Parisian tourism.

The Museum Industry By the Numbers

While blockbuster exhibitions (or a lack thereof) can cause moderate fluctuations in museum attendance, on average, the top 20 museums worldwide have enjoyed stable guest visitation. With the exception of the Louvre, which saw a 14% decline in attendance due to and overall drop in Parisian tourism, the top five museums saw attendance increases of 2.9% to 8.7%.

As a newer market, Asia seems to be leading the growth wave, while the more mature markets of the US and Europe have comparatively little expansion room. The Chinese government’s mandate that the country develop hundreds of new, admission-free museums has helped to bolster Asia’s attendance figures by 9% annually and catapulted the National Museum of China to the top of the global attendance list for the first time. Meanwhile, growth patterns for North America and Europe have been largely ho-um (1% annually), though standouts like the Tate Modern and State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow saw stunning growth of 23.9% and 43% respectively, driven by the Tate’s expansion and the Tretyakov’s 200th anniversary programming.

A Decade of Change

Over the past ten years, the museum industry has gone through tremendous change, and depending on location, has either suffered either substantial losses or growing pains.

In Asia, while cultural institutions are cropping up at a rapid pace due to the aforementioned government pressure, the availability of quality exhibitions and appropriately trained staff is not always keeping the pace, which could prove problematic long-term.

Museums in North America have seen substantial demographic shifts, as tech-crazed Millennials and traditionally non-museum-going ethnic groups are flooding into urban areas. As a result, these museums’ collections and programming are no longer reflecting the communities they serve. Still digging out of the global recession, North American museums have also seen government funding (and unearned income in general) erode, and will need to be creative in identifying replacement sources of revenue to survive and thrive.

New Opportunities Mean New Approaches

Addressing these revenue gaps means re-evaluating the museum guest experience so that it better meets the needs of today’s visitors. Many museums are already “getting it”, incorporating technologies such as virtual and augmented reality in their galleries, and embracing storytelling as a curatorial technique.

In addition to refreshing content and updating interpretive approaches, museums are also reconsidering the role that they play in their communities. To the extent that they can remain true to their missions, these institutions are expanding their programming and even their physical facility outside of the traditional museum sphere. By offering fitness classes, hosting birthday and engagement parties, or adding bars and restaurants that cater to visitors outside of museum operating hours, museums are diversifying their offerings to not only become anchors for their communities, but to also bolster earned revenue.

Reinvestment as the Recipe for Growth

In general, as we emphasized in our review of the Theme Index analysis, reinvestment will be critical as museums evolve and adapt to their changing world. Whether by hosting popular temporary exhibits, refreshing permanent ones, or expanding programming, these institutions must continually evolve to remain relevant and avoid attendance stagnation – or worse. In the face of continued financial obstacles and increasing competition for consumers’ discretionary time and money, the 2016 TEA/AECOM Museum Index tasks museums with thoroughly examining their market and evaluating who they serve, how they serve, and whether or not what they serve is meeting the cultural needs, educational goals and leisure time interests of their communities.

For a PDF copy of the full TEA/AECOM Theme and Museum Index, click here.