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Celebrating impact beyond attendance figures

Alison Lasek

Alison Lasek, 28 April 2017

Australian artists and galleries achieved record visitor numbers in 2016.

Melbourne based contemporary artist Patricia Piccinini was listed as having the second most popular exhibition in the world. Her free exhibition Consciousness at Centre Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro was recently reported in the Art Newspaper as having 8340 visitors per day.

The National Gallery of Victoria was listed in the Art Newspaper as the 19th most visited gallery in the world for 2016, having drawn over 2.6 million visitors across the two sites NGV International and the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia. 

Martin Foley, Minister for Creative Industries in Victoria announced last week, 24 April 2017, that the state government will invest $28.7 million in the NGV over the next two years to build on this growth, which is exciting news for Australia’s most popular gallery. This announcement illustrates the power of visitor numbers as a quantitative measure of success.

While visitor numbers do reflect healthy audience engagement they are just one measure. Gina Fairley, Arts Hub's Visual Arts Editor has continually argued that it is up to cultural organisations to write a story about the value of audience engagement that is heard as loud as the highly celebrated total attendance figures. Fairley suggests that we need to start to capture other data, “the bigger picture of the experience is more valuable than a tally of bums on seats.”

Recording the experience, not just the numbers
Gina Fairley, Arts Hub, 2016

Visitor numbers don’t give the full picture
Gina Fairley, Arts Hub, 2016

In my previous role as Public Programs Manager at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), I knew both instinctively and anecdotally whether a program was well received by the community and the audience, and whether it lived up to my own expectations. However, capturing data that was rich in evidence to substantiate these assumptions (or challenge them) and finding meaningful benchmarks and colleague organisations to compare these findings with proved somewhat harder. 

The Culture Counts platform has been designed to help organisations capture, analyse and report evidence from audiences and peer feedback to compare against their own expectations for an exhibition or program.

Using a sliding (likert) scale, respondents are asked to illustrate the extent to which they agree or disagree with a range of internationally tested and academically validated dimensions, including Concept, it was an interesting idea, Diversity, it engaged people from different backgrounds, Distinctiveness, it was different from things I’ve experienced before, Challenge, it was thought-provoking, Captivation, it was absorbing and held my attention, Enthusiasm, I would come to something like this again, Local impact, it is important that it's happening here, Connection, it helped me to feel connected to people in the community.

These dimensions capture data that can help understand the impact of a cultural experience beyond the number of people who attended. An important point is that a multitude of dimensions contributing to cultural experiences are being measured, not simply whether the work was produced to a superior standard of excellence or audiences said they were satisfied. Using a standardised set of dimensions across the sector creates the opportunity for a wide range of analytical and reflective insights to surface. It can offer arts and cultural organisations greater understanding about what people value about their work and allow them to benchmark against similar organisations. The interpretation of the aggregated data set will be driven and widely discussed by the creative professionals that make the work, producing a richer dialogue around the value of cultural experiences.


Source: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Chris McAuliffe presenting on New York as part of the Cities Shaped by Art lecture series, 2016. Photo: Jenny Lee.

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