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National Visual Arts Benchmarking Pilot

(United Kingdom)

December 11, 201211 December 2012

Visual arts and heritage organizations

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Based on 11,111 on-site interviews in the summer of 2011 with visitors at 49 British art galleries, this report highlights a range of characteristics of art gallery visitors. Even with such a large number of responses, the report cautions that “given that the data in this report was collected over three months and [that some galleries had …] quite small samples, it is unlikely to be truly representative of the audience for visual arts in England.”

Despite the caution regarding representation of all gallery visitors, the report does provide some interesting findings about survey respondents. Almost one-half were first-time visitors to the gallery (45%), while 29% had visited the same gallery in the past 12 months. The remaining 25% had previously visited the gallery, but not in the past year. Sixty-two percent of respondents spent between one and two-and-a-half hours at the gallery.

Almost one-half of visitors came from overseas (48%), while 28% lived in the same region as the gallery, and 24% lived in another region of the United Kingdom. The high proportion of overseas visitors was skewed by the results for participating London-based galleries, which had a very high proportion of overseas visitors (53%). For galleries in other regions, overseas visitors accounted for between 3% and 13% of all visitors.

Many respondents were motivated to attend the gallery by an interest in a specific exhibition, display, or work by a specific artist (41%), while a similar number (40%) were motivated by a general interest in art. The main source of information about the gallery was a personal recommendation (23% of visitors, much higher than any other information source).

About three-quarters of visitors (77%) attended on their own or with one other person (34% on their own and 43% as a party of two).

Fully 95% of visitors indicated that “they would be likely or very likely to recommend a visit to the gallery to friends or family”. Respondents had very high rankings of the value for money, welcoming staff, and “the whole experience” at the galleries visited. Respondents had lower (but still quite positive) rankings for parking as well as the galleries’ shops, bars, and café facilities.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents have bought a contemporary work of art at some point in their lives, while another 43% have not done so but would consider doing so in the future. The remaining 20% would not consider purchasing contemporary art.

In terms of demographic characteristics, 59% of visitors were women (compared with 51% of the population of the United Kingdom). The largest age group was those between 25 and 34 (25% of visitors, compared with 18% of the population). Five percent of respondents had a “long-standing illness, disability or infirmity”, compared with 8% of the population.

The report also provides information about which segments of the public were most likely to visit galleries, according to geo-demographic profiles in use in the U.K. Depending on the specific profile tool used, art gallery visitors tended to come from the “liberal opinions” group, the “urban prosperity” group (especially “educated urbanites”), the “fun, fashion and friends” group, and the “urban arts eclectic” group. (The composition of these groups is not provided in the report.)

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