Diversity Lacking in Crowds at Large Museums

Andrew Herrmann, Chicago Sun-Times, March 16, 2006

It’s not surprising but nevertheless troubling for Chicago’s museums and other cultural institutions: Their patrons are more likely to be white, educated and affluent.

“Chicago’s large arts organizations are not successfully engaging households with poor socioeconomic backgrounds,” University of Chicago researchers conclude in a new study. “Areas with high concentrations of African Americans and Latinos have among the lowest participation rates.”

Examining city neighborhoods and suburbs, the researchers found white areas with lower education levels and earnings also were disengaged.

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Admission fees, hours of operation and transportation are areas institutions may need to reconsider if they wish to broaden attendance, say the researchers from the U. of C.’s Cultural Policy Center and the university’s Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies.

At the Museum of Science and Industry, officials already have a name for the phenomenon—“the Glenview effect,” after the largely white suburb that represents its highest single ZIP code attendance, said Valerie Waller, the museum’s vice president of marketing.

“We see it on the floor—our audience is not as diverse as what we see in the city of Chicago or the surrounding area,” said Waller.

Speaking Wednesday at the Cultural Center, where the study was unveiled, Waller said, “The number of people not engaged in our institutions, with all the variety of programming and opportunities we have for them, is shocking.”

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