Why don’t more people visit cultural institutions? Why is this concerning and what can be done about it?

This project seeks to establish the main reasons, or barriers that discourage people from accessing cultural institutions. It is based on the fact that over the last two hundred years the people that access cultural institutions have largely remained the same. They are educated, middle class and white. This project is primarily a research essay, using current statistics from which to infer four main barriers to access. I then apply this lens to three very different types of institutions, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Incinerator Gallery in Aberfeldie and the Shepparton Art Museum to see what, if anything they are doing to break down these barriers and achieve greater access?

This project is intrinsically linked to arts management, as it seeks to identify and understand the gaps in the provision of culture, caused by a lack of access and a number of barriers. And if we can identify these then we can improve our services, to encourage a more equitable distribution of people using these vital spaces of civic and public culture. And so it improves our lives as a whole.

This project defines four levels of access, which encompasses the equality of rights, i.e. legal; the equality of opportunity i.e. geography and available services; the equality of participation i.e. financial, time etc.; and finally, reception i.e. cultural capital. It then looks at barriers, which are defined as ‘either physical or metaphorical that prevents movement’. The ‘Museums and Galleries of NSW (2023)’ definitions are the most comprehensive, as they identify six areas which include physical and sensory, cultural, social, intellectual, attitudinal and financial barriers.

This research project extracts data from the last ten years (2009-2019) from the Australia Council for the Arts, which examine arts participation. It also uses data from the most current surveys, ‘Audience Outlook Monitors’ which give snapshots of cultural organisations behaviour and trends. The objective being to support planning and decision making, which is especially needed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also interviewed the managers from each of the three case studies.

I then determined four barriers to access, The major barrier is finance/cost, followed by geographic, thirdly, education and finally the lack of culturally and linguistically diverse people in arts management and positions of leadership. Following this, I apply these four barrier lenses to look at the three case studies, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Incinerator Gallery in Aberfeldie and the Shepparton Art Museum to see what, if anything they are doing about them?

The main findings are that all three institutions have differing circumstances and barriers and hence they approach their barriers differently. However, there are common themes:

  1. All have a dedicated community focus, as opposed to a collection focus i.e. actively seeking to engage the audience.
  2. Education is an extremely high priority – especially providing more programming and making it more accessible to students.
  3. They are all very aware there are barriers and want to break them down and not be seen as elitist; and are determined to chip away and find new and creative ways to achieve this;.
  4. Actively seek alternative programming and exhibitions and promote diversity and CALD.


Suzanne Mockridge’s background is in leisure management, however a segue into arts management represents a natural progression. The author is curious, and as such, very interested in seeking answers to those elusive questions about how to make society a more equitable place to live, hence the interest in this subject of access and equality.

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Suzanne Mockridge
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