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Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, told Parliament today that much is being done to tackle the downward trend in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)’s visitor numbers but this work needs to be taken further.

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In 1999-2000 there were 1.27 million visitors to the Museum, some 320,000 lower than the target and 200,000 (13 per cent) less than in the previous year. The V&A now has one of the highest grant-in-aid per visitor (£24) of any UK Museum. However, visitor satisfaction levels have remained high and in 1999-2000 the V&A achieved a visitor satisfaction rate of 99 per cent against a target of 97 per cent.

The National Audit Office questioned the way in which the Museum’s performance targets were initially set and performance measured. For example, visitor numbers reported for 1998-99 included corporate visitors – a category which is now excluded from the definition. The performance measurement arrangements for the V&A and other government sponsored museums and galleries have been improved following a review commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The V&A’s latest performance targets reflect the improved arrangements.

The V&A is responding positively to the challenge of broadening access in a number of ways. These include increasing ‘brand awareness’ which is important as 55% of first time visitors did not know what was in the museum before they visited; improving the building through the redevelopment of the British Galleries and the Spiral project; targeting different types of visitor; and using the Internet.

Whilst the Report recognises that the V&A is doing much to broaden access, it encourages the Museum to build on this work by:

  • analysing the reasons for the continuing reduction in visitor numbers, in particular the sharp fall in 1999-2000, and pressing ahead with plans to carry out research among non-visitors;
  • stimulating public awareness of the British Galleries project and the Spiral; effective marketing will be crucial if they are to have the desired effect of raising the V&A’s profile and drawing in new visitors;
  • applying the lessons (within resource constraints) from its research into the British Galleries, for example on new display techniques, to its other galleries; and
  • improving communication about the activities it offers. Implementing its ten-point marketing plan should help and there may be scope to make more use of its website to encourage visits.

"The work of the V&A contributes to the Government's aim of extending access to the arts. The museum is clearly working hard to broaden access to its collections and to make the Museum a more visitor-friendly place.

"However, the sharp fall in visitor numbers in 1999-2000 shows that more needs to be done. The V&A needs to press ahead with the work in hand to improve public understanding of the nature of its collections and to improve the way they are presented. The V&A also needs to improve communication about the activities it offers. There are good things going on at the V&A but not enough people know about them".

Sir John


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