Date night, late night. Public galleries to launch burning platform for change

15 February, 2013

Public art galleries across Victoria are urged to trial late night openings from 2014- a technique more commonly seen in shopping and retail centres - as a way of boosting their popularity with visitors a report has revealed.

The concept is contained in a report launched yesterday - Branding the Public Art Museum Sector - which was carried out by a partnership comprising Deakin University (lead by Dr Kerrie Bridson), the Melbourne Business School (Lead by Associate Professor Jody Evans) and the Public Galleries Association of Victoria.

Study co-author Dr Kerrie Bridson, from Deakin University's School of Management and Marketing said public galleries faced increased competition both from within the arts sector and from new retail and entertainment venues, destination and other leisure attractions.

“Public galleries are also under pressure from government to reach specific visitor targets as well as pressure to generate their own income and be more self-sufficient,” she said.

Dr Bridson said in response to these pressures, the report had highlighted that galleries needed to become braver, more proactive and innovative.

“Galleries do a lot with very little - particularly staff - but despite this they are popular with people and they need to do more to engage visitors in their exhibitions,” she said.

“Figures for attendances at exhibitions are a source of concern for the sector, with only two percent of art museums achieving over 100,000 visitors per exhibition.

“This is a typical benchmark for blockbuster exhibitions, but it does suggest that only a few institutions are implementing a blockbuster strategy.

“A large percentage (43%) of art museums record less than 1000 visitors per exhibition.”

Dr Bridson stressed that part of the issue was that many art museums spread their limited resources across too many exhibitions and without staff having the necessary capabilities.

“Offering fewer, but more targeted and well-resourced exhibitions may see a greater return on investment with the implementation of more efficient and effective marketing campaigns,” she said.

Dr Bridson said the researchers had spoken to people across the sector including directors, peak sector bodies, public and private funding organisations, government departments, media agencies, exhibition support services and marketing organisations as well as gallery audiences including those who attended galleries and those who didn't.

“Public galleries face a number of challenges but also opportunities,” she said.

“But many of the challenges relate to the public gallery sector's current ability to articulate a compelling business case.

“Such a case is critical to engaging local councils, Board members, State Government, private and public philanthropy, community groups and visitors."

Dr Bridson said those working inside the sector were split in their views with some seeing it negatively using terms such as elitist, stuffy, conservative and judgemental while others saw it positively using terms such as relevant, accessible, interesting and exciting.

“Directors likewise were labelled negatively through terms such as elitist and exhausted and positively through descriptors such as engaged and dynamic,” she said.

“The challenge for the sector is that the negative image dominated perceptions and the positive image was seen as rare.,”

Dr Bridson said the sector's view of its visitors were also at odds with the views of the visitors themselves.

“It was interesting that many institutional stakeholders believed that visitors and non-visitors still perceived public galleries as elitist, old-fashioned, conservative institutions,” she said.

“However, both visitors and non visitors saw things much more positively.

“Public galleries are overwhelmingly perceived as intelligent and dynamic, but somewhat old,” she said.

Dr Bridson said the four groups revealed diverse reasons for attending art galleries.

“ Art Lovers are stimulated by visual art and come for an enlightening experience that has a sense of both freedom and escape,” she said.

“While the Exhibitionists are there to be seen and are motivated to attend quality popular experiences and events.,”

Dr Bridson said for Date Nighters public galleries were not currently part of their busy social calendars, but they could be.

“This group became incredibly excited by the notion of a date night at a public gallery,” she said.

“The Sports Lovers have not made a deliberate decision to avoid the visual arts; rather they lack personal knowledge and a reference group that could introduce them to public galleries. “

Dr Bridson said the four groups valued different aspects of a visit to a public gallery and the two groups who didn’t go to public galleries had a number of misconceptions about the experience.

“Art Lovers expect a quality experience that presents them with opportunities of personal reflection,” she said.

“While The Exhibitionists seek a high quality and grand event that tells an interesting story.

“The Date Nighters expect to be cognitively challenged by a public gallery and, therefore, feel that they need to be in the "right" mindset to attend.

“The Sports Lovers perceived public galleries to be expensive and did not realise that it was free to experience the permanent collection.,”

Dr Bridson said the primary issue of concern for all four groups was problems with accessibility.

“For the Art Lovers and Exhibitionists, opening hours impeded their ability to share the experience with family and friends,” she said.

“Limited weeknight opening hours also present a substantial obstacle to visitation for the Date Nighters and Sports Lovers as both groups had competing demands on their weekend leisure time.,”

Dr Bridson said the details of the late night openings which Dr Bridson and her co-researcher Associate Professor Jody Evans tagged "Winter Wednesdays" were still to be finalised but the thinking would be anchored on a date night concept with a range of executions including "bring your Mum on a date to the gallery", "reconnect with old friends" and "bring the kids on an after-school date".

News facts
  • Public galleries face increased competition both from within the arts sector and from new retail and entertainment venues, destination and other leisure attractions
  • Report urges galleries to become braver, more proactive and innovative
  • "Winter Wednesdays" anchored on a date night concept with a range of executions including "bring your Mum on a date to the gallery", "reconnect with old friends" and "bring the kids on an after-school date".

Media contact

Sandra Kingston
Deakin Media Relations
03 9246 8221/ 0422 005 485


The different types of possible gallery patrons - The Art Lover, The Exhibitionist, Date Nighters and The Sportslovers

Kerrie Bridson

Dr Kerrie Bridson

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

15th February 2013