Rishi Sunak has handed visitor attractions a multimillion lifeline. But there’s a bigger job to be done here. We need to rethink visitor attractions, and recognise their role in reconnecting museums, galleries and venues with local communities
For generations, museums, galleries and visitor experiences were regarded as little more than buildings that stored objects. People could filter in, spend a few minutes gazing at something on a wall or plinth, before moving on to the next curiosity, all in stony silence. No wonder numbers were falling.
Attitudes have definitely become more favourable as these spaces have evolved to be more entertaining and interactive. When people in the visitor attraction business started asking people to get involved, rather than telling them what to think, things changed for the better.
But despite these feelgood vibes, many museums and galleries are struggling to survive thanks to Covid-19. So, as we look towards May 17th, when opening restrictions are set to lift, what can cultural commerce do to re-energise itself? And how can attractions make themselves more relevant to communities?
Rethink the role of retail
Despite events of the past 12 months, we’re still a nation that likes to shop. E-commerce has risen from 21.8% to 30% across all retail sales in the past two years. And as more digital natives reach their spending prime, that’ll only increase. But those numbers also show that there are plenty of people who crave in-real-life retail. Bricks and mortar outlets provide an opportunity to slow down and browse. With so many mainstream retailers falling by the wayside, the cultural commerce sector is in a better place to engage with customers who are starved of choice.
More than ever, it needs to provide something that you can’t get online. Rather than just ‘click and go’, retailers could take the opportunity to enrich every experience. We might be ‘hands-off’ for a little while longer, but in-real-life consumer commerce can still provide a multi-sensory feast.
At the Schlossmuseum in Linz, Austria, we are transforming the entrance hall into a living experience to support the museum’s artifacts. It’s part of a move to revive the museum’s fortunes and reconnect with the community. Artisans will demonstrate the techniques that were used to create the ancient objects that lie within – weaving, wood-turning, pot-throwing, etc. People will be invited to watch, maybe even have a go, and then buy. And the pop-up style is flexible enough to be changed to complement new exhibitions.
When local people cotton on to the fact that there’s something for everyone, a trip to the local museum becomes a much more attractive option.