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Museums at night

  • Date: 14 August 2012
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: National
A picture of two children playing decorative masks Museums at night, Pal Hansen

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  • Partners: Culture 24, MLA, Arts Council England, VisitEngland, National Trust, Historic Houses Association, Future Shorts, Arts Marketing Association, Museums Association, Festival of Museums (in Scotland), the National Museums Directors Conference, BBC History Monthly Magazine, Sky Arts
  • Themes:  Improving the offer, Power of collaboration
  • Segments: Family and community focused

Museums at Night is a well established, annual, weekend event, during which any UK museum or heritage destination can open its doors later than usual with an offer that challenges people's expectations.

The Arts Nation pilot extended this initiative to involve more visual arts and cultural venues. Besides helping to introduce new visitors to these venues the pilot aimed to explore the issues, opportunities and challenges of cross-sector, national campaigns.

The Pilot Project leaves participant venues and organisations with new audiences and an increased pallet of programming, marketing and promotional skills. For Culture24 and its partners it has generated a successful model for future cross-sector national campaigning.

Venues adopted the Museums at night brand and benefitted from a national marketing and publicity campaign led by Culture24.

In May 2011 Museums at Night events included; sleepovers, swing dances, 24 hour print making marathons, contemporary dance performances, art bus tours and much more.

To achieve the campaign aims, Culture24 supported venues to; devise different events and experiences to tempt visitors in, encourage collaboration and build skills, broker partnerships with government departments, cultural agencies and the media and managed campaign communications.

Culture24 also created a series of downloadable resources for participating venues including logos, flyers and poster templates which enabled venues to offer consistent branding.

Arts companies added to the experience with events such as swing dances, 24 hour print making marathons, contemporary dance performances, art bus tours, story-telling, craft workshops, film screenings and overnight illustration workshops.

'Museums at Night prompted us to rethink our activities - mac [Midlands Arts Centre] came on board for the first time, which introduced a new audience. We also benefitted from national media exposure. In all, Museums at Night is a useful exercise in audience development. It's an example of a successful, joined-up approach to audience development and partnership working.'

Helen Stallard - Press and PR, Ikon Gallery

[From report by Sam Culture Ltd]


When 352 arts and heritage venues opened their doors at night:

  • 169 UK towns got involved
  • 457 events took place
  • 105,000 visitors came through the doors
  • over 5, 000 people who'd never been to an arts or heritage venue visited one during Museums at night
  • 38 per cent of all visitors were new to the venue they visited
  • 95 per cent of visitors rated their experience as eight, nine or 10 out of 10
  • 93 per cent of visitors were inspired to visit other heritage and arts venues
  • 61 per cent of visitors felt 'more positive' about where they lived because of a Museums at night event
  • 1,059 pieces of media coverage were run with an audited value of £1,180,770
  • 94 per cent of venues said they would take part again in 2012

The campaign required £94,550 of MLA and Arts Council England funding and generated: 

  • £1,000,000 of advertising value equivalent
  • 26 stories in the national press, close to 700 items in the regional media together with coverage across 190 websites

The model for Museums at Night that Culture 24 has developed for England may be adopted elsewhere as a way of working with gateway organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Key learning

  • the choice of campaign ambassador significantly influenced the positioning of the offer. In 2011 there was a notable increase in visitors and audiences from the 16-24 age group most likely generated by the adoption of Lauren Laverne as the campaign's Ambassador
  • understanding and sharing what inspires new audiences is a key success factor for Museums at night and helped build the capacity of participating organisations to do this themselves
  • the support and guidance that Culture24 offered to venues contributed greatly to the campaign
  • the new relationship with Arts Council England was important in helping Culture24 realise its ambitions to set up innovative national collaborations with artists; to make creative use of venue spaces and collections and to motivate venues to create attractive new experiences and opportunities for audiences
  • utilising a mix of arts events helped challenge audience preconceptions of what to expect from a museum or gallery venue
  • there is compelling evidence that art, gallery and heritage venues and companies, working in partnerships  that result in unusual and sometimes unlikely mixed programmes, do widen the audience base for all partners