It’s strange how the media now works. I was sitting at my desk this morning when I got a text from a friend congratulating me on my interview in the Times. But, I said, I haven’t done an interview in the Times. Oh yes, you have, I was told, it was described at length by Petroc Trelawny on Radio 3 at 6.49. Indeed, it was. It turns out that what I said during my conversation with other museum professionals during the Hay Festival has been turned into a news story on page 3 of today’s Times.
I was asked during the interview which museum that I had visited had succeeded best in attracting a genuinely socially diverse mix of visitors and I answered: MONA in Tasmania, because I thought it succeeded in presenting itself not as a place of learning, but as a visitor attraction, reached by boat from Hobart, with cafés, bars and a ping pong table when you arrive, and when you descend into the ground to see the displays, you are greeted on arrival outside the lift by a bar. Then, I am quoted as saying, ‘You could say all these things are irrelevant to the art but they are signals all the way through of treating it not in a reverential way but as a casual visitor experience’.
All of this is true. I have checked on the latest statistics for MONA. In 2018, they got 347,000 visitors, less than I was quoted as saying, but still 27% of all visitors to Tasmania, whose total population is only 541,071, much less than I thought. They do not give a socio-economic breakdown of visitors, but my impression was – which was my general point – that they are much more obviously socio-economically diverse than most visitors to museums, helped by the fact that the museum is treated as a day out, not as an opportunity for educational improvement.
Does this mean that museums should open a boozeum, as the headline writer suggests ? I certainly think that it should make museums attentive, as they already are, to how they project their identity. And, as I have always realised, people read how the audience is constructed as much from the cafés and bars – the food they offer and how it is priced – as they do from the exhibitions and displays.
I’m not sure this is news, but am more than happy for it to be a topic of discussion on Radio 3 and in the Times.