Museum Virtual Events in Charts

During COVID, as museums took their institutions online, event programming became a viable space to adapt to new monetization paths and presented potential new business practices. After we published our research into how the pandemic affected and shaped museum website visitation, colleagues in the museum technology field (shoutout MCN!) suggested virtual event programming would make for a compelling next topic.

This cross-institutional research highlighted best practices and ways forward for virtual events in the museum sector. We sought out cross-industry event trends by analyzing quantitative data from about twenty institutions nationwide. We wanted to know what elements made for the most successful virtual events as measured by attendance.

Research Cohort

When selecting participants for our research, we sought various perspectives and voices within the museum sector. We wanted a variety of perspectives to speak to how museums approached virtual events during the pandemic.

Institutions that contributed data to this project.

We are grateful to the Akron Art Museum, Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Art Gallery of Ontario, Blanton Museum of Art, Brucemore, Chinese American Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art, Corning Museum of Glass, Europeana, Hammer Museum, History Colorado, Museum at FIT, Nasher Sculpture Center, and Philadelphia Museum of Art for contributing data.

The charts in this post are based on a subset of the data we collected. The subset contained 752 events presented in 2020 and is weighted toward the Hammer Museum (27%) and Buffalo AKG Art Museum (26%). The subset also contained records from Philadelphia Museum of Art, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Art Gallery of Ontario, Cleveland Museum of Art, Akron Art Museum, Nasher Sculpture Center, Museum at FIT, and Brucemore.

The data subset used to generate these charts.

Museum Virtual Events by Date

Each record in our dataset refers to a discrete virtual event presented by a museum. Let’s start by simply charting the number of events over time:

The metric we were primarily interested in was event attendance, so here’s that:

The previous charts are okay as far as they go, but we’re not sure they tell us much. But by dividing attendance by the number of events, we can see a clear trend: Event attendance decreased as the year went on.

This finding is consistent with what everyone who lived through lockdown experienced — Zoom fatigue was real!

Museum Virtual Events by Day of Week

Next, we were curious if events offered on certain days of the week drew larger audiences than others. Institutions in our subset tended to present their events mid-week, with a peak on Thursdays:

And here’s when the audience showed up, in raw numbers, also with a peak on Thursdays:

Again, those are okay as far as they go. But when we divide attendance by the number of events, we see that events from Sunday to Thursday had much higher attendance than those on Friday and Saturday:

Based on these findings, we recommend institutions schedule more events early in the week. We understand that Sunday and Monday may be inconvenient for staff, but it appears the audience demand is there. Further, we recommend deprioritizing events on Friday and Saturday.

We conducted this research to support museum professionals who want increase attendance to their virtual events. We hope this data helps museum professionals identify elements of successful virtual events and apply them in their future programs.

— Marty Spellerberg and Grace Poole

Posted November 2023

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