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Community Relations

[2004]
An audience research project with a natural history museum
Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University, New Haven, CT

Study Context

The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University faces the challenge of attracting a diverse, representative audience that reflects the Museum's surrounding community. The Museum asked RK&A to conduct in-depth audience research to address key questions and help the Museum build a stronger relationship with New Haven's African-American and Hispanic communities.

Approach

As part of this work, RK&A conducted four focus groups with New Haven residents. This part of the study provided concrete information to help the Museum understand community members' barriers to visiting the Museum and to participating in museum programs.

Findings

Findings from the focus groups, which intentionally included African-American and Hispanic, non-college graduates, and infrequent or non-museum visitors, accentuate the challenge the Peabody faces in diversifying its audiences. Participants were unsure of the Museum's target audience, described the Museum as intimidating and unwelcoming, conveyed poor opinions of the Museum based on past experiences, and noted that dinosaurs—the only known asset that these individuals associated with the Museum—are not particularly relevant to them. Focus group participants noted they value social experiences that have multi-sensory activities and they did not necessarily see the Museum as offering those experiences. Participants also discussed that the Peabody is part of Yale University, which contributed to the negative perceptions they held of the Museum.

Conclusion

The results from these focus groups are similar to those from other museums in urban settings. The Peabody and other museums that are serious about attracting a non-museum visiting public will need to change how they communicate and partner with the community and how they deliver programs and services. Attracting non-visitors and developing a relationship with new community groups requires considerable commitment. With funding from the Jessie Ball DuPont Fund, the Peabody was able to hire RK&A and take the first step in understanding these hard-to-reach audiences. For more information about this project, please visit http://www.peabody.yale.edu/contact/pdfs/ypmEOCproject.pdf

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