Carol Scott on The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries

For the past month or so I’ve been immersed in reading books, papers, articles, and reports relating to the cultural value of engaging with museums and galleries, as part of the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries University of Leicester team involved in the project. We have been interviewing colleagues in the field to get perspectives on the strengths, weaknesses and gaps in this existing body of research. It’s been an exciting exercise to undertake a major critical review of literature produced over the last two decades.

We have a compelling body of data.  Numerous studies have set out to describe, understand, measure and evidence what impacts and benefits result from museums and galleries. Many of these studies have sought to demonstrate the achievement of museums and galleries against policy determinants such as social inclusion, learning, and well being.  Though users are necessary respondents in these studies there is less literature focusing specifically on how users describe their engagement and few systematic attempts to draw together and critically assess what this body of research tells us about how the experience is valued by the user, how that value is expressed and what differentiates museums and galleries from other leisure experiences. What our project is doing is addressing these long overdue questions to provide insights of value to policymakers, funders and practitioners.

So far, I’ve been astonished by the richness and breadth of material looking at the question of the cultural value of engagement during a period of great change for museums and galleries. Although this is a complex and sometimes contentious area, we are beginning to notice definite patterns in the research corpus.  The project seeks to develop taxonomy of how users express the value of engaging with museums and galleries and to scope directions for future work.

The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries started in February 2014 and will run until June. It is one of a number of critical reviews commissioned by the AHRC. The project report will be available on the RCMG website from summer 2014.

Dr Carol Scott is an independent researcher working on The Cultural Value of Engaging with Museums and Galleries project, a four-month interdisciplinary initiative led by Professor Richard Sandell and Jocelyn Dodd (both University of Leicester). For more information visit