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Report Series: Building Audiences for Museums
Part 3 of 3

Service to People

How Museums Can Become More Visitor-Centered

With a visitor-centered approach, museums create positive experiences that draw new audiences and bring old ones back.
April 2001
A group of mixed gender and race people standing at an art exhibit looking at a panting
  • Publisher(s)
  • The Wallace Foundation
Page Count 67 pages


How we did this

The stories, examples, and insights collected in this report were gathered and reported based on Wallace's decade-long work with museums. The report reflects the experiences of 29 museums. 

This Wallace-commissioned report, the last in a series of three, describes how museums can attract large numbers of visitors without compromising quality. To achieve that goal, museums should try to think about the needs and interests of the people they serve with the same level of intensity they bring to the stewardship of their collections.

To create positive experiences for both first-timers and repeat visitors—inspiring them to return time and time again—museums have taken several steps. For example: 

  • reinterpreting their collections
  • planning new exhibitions and programs to offer more meaningful experiences to new and returning visitors
  • involving all museum staff in their audience-building efforts, not just the marketing department

Some museums have reorganized their operations, created new departments, upgraded ticket and admission services, and improved training and compensation for staff members who perform these duties. Others have even started to evaluate employees on their visitor-service skills and tying salary increases to participation in customer-service training. 

What’s more, enhancing services for visitors and the quality of their experience also has figured prominently in plans for capital improvement projects.


More and more museums are doing what it takes to make visitors want to come and feel welcome when they arrive, engage them during their stay, and make sure they’re eager to return.

Key Takeaways

  • Museums are broadening their focus beyond the quality of their collections to address how they treat visitors and make them feel more welcome.
  • They have taken a cue from the business world, looking to develop a "customer mindset," to ensure a visitor's experience from start to finish goes off without a hitch.
  • They are revisiting their hiring, training, and compensation strategies museums use to ensure their staff can meet new customer-service goals.
  • Some museums are conducting market research to better understand what visitors want and using that information to improve services. 
  • In some cases, museums are using capital improvement projects to enhance the quality of their visitors' experiences. 
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