The entry to a museum (1)

I have been asked by Bendor Grosvenor if there is any evidence that people are influenced by whether or not they go to a museum by the character of the entrance (I know he thinks the National Gallery shouldn’t be spending money on its entrance).

This is not exactly an answer to his question – I believe the National Gallery has assembled evidence on attitudes (all negative) to the current experience of the entrance to the Sainsbury Wing – but I remember being told at the Museum Management Institute which I attended long ago (1991) that visitors make up their minds about whether or not they will like a museum within thirty seconds of crossing its threshold.

When writing my book about museums, I managed to find out the source for this from Phil Nowlen, the wise man and mentor who ran the course. It came apparently from a book by Christopher Lovelock called Services Marketing: People and Strategy, now in its eighth edition. I can’t say I’ve read the book, but it suggests that entrances do matter.


4 thoughts on “The entry to a museum (1)

  1. joan says:

    I think that entrances do matter. There is a fantastic picture book by the former children’s laureate Anthony Browne called The Shape Game which takes as its starting point a childhood birthday trip – instigated by his mother – to what is now Tate Britain. Browne was born in 1946 so we are talking decades ago. One of the earliest pictures in the book shows the stairs up to the gallery looming large and the words say ‘When we got there the place looked really posh. I felt a bit nervous…..’ Then they start to see stories in the pictures and Anthony Browne describes it as ‘a day that changed my life forever’. I think it is so easy to be put off by the initial experience of a gallery or museum.

    Of course some museums have special considerations. I always feel sad that the – incredibly welcoming – Jewish Museum London has to have such security at its entrance.

  2. bendorgrosvenor says:

    Thanks for giving some further thought to this Charles. A few quick points.
    1 – I take it from your reference to the marketing book first published almost two decades ago that there really isn’t much evidence for us to go on.
    2 – all the experiences you and your contributors describe, in relation to museum visiting, are taken after you had already made the decision to visit. The entrance was a factor in the quality of your visit, but not your decision to go.
    3 – in the internet age, the overwhelming majority of people who decide to visit an institution will make their decision long before they physically go there. Therefore, if a museum has money to invest in making itself more welcoming, it should start there.

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