Open up: museums for everyone

What is Open Up?

‘Open Up: museums for everyone’ is a ground-breaking project designed to help museums increase the diversity of their visitors. It aims to support organisations to move beyond talk to action and to make real and lasting change.

‘Museums want to increase their visitor numbers and ensure they are relevant and attractive to the whole of society. Diversifying visitors achieves both increased footfall which supports their financial resilience, and long-term sustainability because they are at the heart of their communities as those communities change.’   – Tamalie Newbery, Director & CEO, Brooklands Museum

Explore the Open Up guide

Open Up is a practical, online guide to support leaders and their teams to move beyond talk to action, and to make real and lasting change.  Created with and for the museum sector, it has relevance for all art forms.

The guide has been created to help you to identify practical actions to get you started on diversifying visitors.

Try out some of the tools within the guide to ignite important conversations about diversity within your organisation:

  1. The Story of Change – a planning template for you to capture your ideas as you work through the book
  2. 5 key Steps – to take to complete your Story of Change
  3. 8 Success Factors – which are explained as you go along
  4. Tools – frameworks, exercises, discussions and practical advice that you can use to build your Story of Change
  5. 12 Case Studies – from pioneering museums to inspire your thinking

Follow our five-step process to help you develop relationships with a diverse range of visitors.

‘How we become loved by, relevant to, and part of more people’s lives sits at the heart of this guide. I encourage you to read this but it’s deeds not words that will create change. So… focus on action; listening, experimenting, learning, collaborating, becoming more diverse, better. Risk we must.’ – Esme Ward, The Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Museum, University of Manchester

Who is behind it?

The Guide is funded and produced by: AIM: Association of Independent Museums, MA: Museums Association, Arts Council England, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Division of the Welsh Government, Museums Galleries Scotland, National Museums Northern Ireland, and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Julie Aldridge Consulting led the study and the Guide is written by Julie Aldridge, Mel Larsen and Pam Jarvis and co-created with 20 museums across all four countries of the UK.

Co-created with museums

We put together two groups of museums to help us co-create the guide and to ensure that the suite of tools and guidance will work well for a broad mix of museums (of different types, size, geographical locations etc.)

Working with 12 pioneering museums we have captured their stories of change, creating case studies to share within the guide. These 12 museums (the ‘pioneers’ listed below) have also shared the questions they regularly ask of themselves and their potential visitors to continue to improve. We hope that these stories and questions will inspire and inform change in many other museums.

Read the Guide to find out how pioneering museums achieve results such as:

  • Beamish, the living museum of the North – 53% of the Beamish audience hail from the social category C2DE.
  • Cardiff Story Museum – 62% of visitors are under the age of 44, including 11% under the age of 16.
  • National Museums Liverpool – 28% are from the less advantaged categories NS-SEC 5-8.
  • National Museums Northern Ireland – on re-opening, the percentage of C2DE attenders rose from 23% to 46%.
  • V&A – 6% of new volunteers are BAME and 4% have a disability – both figures exceed targets.

The museums taking part were:

  • Beamish Museum (pioneer)
  • Black Country Living Museum (pioneer)
  • Museum of Cambridge (pioneer)
  • Cardiff Story Museum (pioneer)
  • Colchester and Ipswich Museums (pioneer)
  • Museum of Croydon (explorer)
  • Derby Museums (pioneer)
  • Doncaster Heritage Services (explorer)
  • Egypt Centre, Swansea (explorer)
  • Glasgow Women’s Library (pioneer)
  • National Justice Museum (explorer)
  • National Museums Liverpool (pioneer)
  • National Museums Northern Ireland (pioneer)
  • Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire (explorer)
  • People’s History Museum (explorer)
  • National Museum of the Royal Navy, Northern Ireland (explorer)
  • V&A (pioneer)
  • National Museum Wales (pioneer)
  • Wellcome Collection (explorer)
  • Whitworth Art Gallery (pioneer)

We have developed a checklist of factors of success that have led to these museums significantly diversifying their visitors and we hope that this checklist can be useful to museum professionals as they spark conversation within their own teams about what’s working well and what they might need to change or develop.

Use the online Checklist to quickly identify areas where you could improve your practice: 

‘Who holds the pen that writes the stories? Who holds the power to influence others? Who has the authority to shoulder blame and the authority to take risks to drive change?’ – Glenis Williams, Black Country Living Museum

Beyond the guide

Our intention is that this is just the start.  The three consultants have reported back to the steering group on recommendations for rolling out the tools and developing programmes of support to enable museums across the whole of the UK to implement the findings and help them to diversify the range of people engaging with their work.

‘…museums are still shaped by intellectual and cultural privilege. The culture needs
to change and the first step is to name the problem: the gap between users and non-users of museums needs to be bridged.’
 – Tony Butler Derby Museums

‘British museums lead the world in so many ways, and it is good to see that the British museum sector recognises that its relationship with the public sits at the heart of its success. No longer do we create museums which are locked into traditional approaches to display and interpretation; instead we create museums that are full of debate and controversy. Consequently, our museums are visited by an increasingly diverse audience. This is the best result we could hope for in our drive to modernise museums’  – David Fleming, National Museums Liverpool