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2021 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers

2021 Research themes (available in full text below)

About the 2021 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers

In this rapidly evolving climate, museum leaders need to make decisions based on data, not assumptions. The 2021 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers is a survey of museum-goers specifically, not casual visitors or the broader public. By participating in the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, you will:

  • gain insight into your visitors, including who they are, their behaviors, and their values
  • benchmark your data against that of peers, especially around the themes of virtual content, museums during a social reckoning, and museums and race
  • track changes in your stakeholders over time (with multi-year participation), and much more.
Once you know exactly what makes your museum meaningful to your community, you’ll be better equipped to attract more visitors, make the case for increased funding, and keep up with our rapidly evolving environment.


The 2021 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers themes

In addition to gaining deeper insights into your museum’s audience, the 2021 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers will focus on three themes to help the museum field grapple with today’s challenges and opportunities. This year’s themes are:

Virtual Content
Museums pivoted to virtual content during the COVID-19 pandemic. Who took advantage of it? What worked well? What are the common barriers? And was it worth our investment?

Museums During a Social Reckoning

As our communities are coping with the fallout of the pandemic, including closed businesses and schools and lost income, what role do museums play in recovery? How can museums contribute to rebuilding thriving communities? And how do we make the case that museums are critical assets to our communities now and in the future?

Museums and Race

As our country grapples with issues of race and equity, expectations for museums are shifting. The need to respond to the massive challenges our communities are facing is no longer optional. We’ll examine the spectrum of audience attitudes towards inclusion. Which audiences are demanding inclusion and equity and which audiences are resisting it? How can museums use data to navigate the spectrum of audience attitudes and move ahead into a more inclusive and equitable future?


Tackling these issues confidently requires a data-informed strategy. Enroll your museum today.

Sign up with your peers!

When you sign up for the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, you receive data on your museum and how it compares to the field at-large.

In addition, when at least five museums of the same type or geographic location sign up for the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers, you receive even more benchmarking data. So far, we are able to cut the data further for:

History museums (additional data available)
Art museums (additional data available)
Local historical societies (additional data available)
Regional art museums (additional data available)
Science museums (additional data available)
College/university art museums (additional data available)
Natural history museums (additional data available)
Historic houses (additional data available)
Contemporary art museums (additional data available)
Children’s museums (additional data available)
Local history museums (additional data available)
City history museums (additional data available)
Estates (additional data available)
Botanic gardens/arboreta (additional data available)
Ohio museums (additional data available)
Illinois museums (additional data available)
Michigan museums (additional data available)
Colorado museums (additional data available)
Chicago museums (additional data available)
Outdoor history museums (additional data available)
Zoos/Aquaria (additional data available)
State history organizations (additional data available)
Massachusetts museums (additional data available)
New York City museums (additional data available)
Texas museums (additional data available)
Pennsylvania museums (additional data available)
Virginia museums (additional data available)
Indiana museums (1 more museum needed!)
Minneapolis/St. Paul museums (1 more museum needed!)
Wisconsin museums (1 more museum needed!)
Miami museums (1 more museum needed!)

Critical data that is easy to use at an affordable cost

The Annual Survey of Museum-Goers is designed to provide high-quality data to your museum that is easy to understand and act upon, at an affordable cost. Results are shared in multiple formats, from spreadsheets for the data enthusiasts to graphs and visuals for those who want just the results. Receive critical research to inform your decisions to help your museum survive and thrive.

Museums who launch their survey before February 28 save nearly 70%! Learn more and enroll today.

Participating in the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers is simple! 

Step 1: Enroll in the survey.

Step 2: Choose your custom questions from a sample list, or Wilkening Consulting will help you develop your own. Finalize your survey.

Step 3: Wilkening Consulting will provide you with a custom link to share with your audiences via email, social media, and your other communications channels.

Step 4: Receive your results in spring 2021. For Tier 3 AAM Museum Members, you will also receive a consultative call with Wilkening Consulting to review your results.


Read more from previous participants in the Annual Survey of Museum-Goers

The Annual Museums survey is invaluable in giving us insight into how we are doing as an institution and how we compare with others in the field. We learn not only about who is coming to our museum, but also the impacts on our visitors and the reasons they value us. It was affirming this year to see that we are moving the dial in ‘fueling curiosity,’ which is one of Mia’s strategic priorities. The survey helped us see that the intentional work we are doing in this area is working.

Karleen Gardner

Director of Learning Innovation

Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia).


Omaha Children’s Museum has participated for the past 2 years in the Annual Museum-Goers  (AMG) Survey and we have been pleased with the results.  We have followed the research and work of Wilkening Consulting for several years.  What has always impressed us has been the way in which the data is woven into a story that supports the data with both graphic and text.  This makes access of the data much more effective for the variety of audiences in which we share the results:  internal staff, board of directors, stakeholders and the general public.

Prior to joining the AMG survey, we had a practice for years of surveying our visitors, asking the same questions each year and filing away the results.  However, after participating in the AMG survey, we now can take our local data, compare it with those other participating museums and weave a story to tell from our data.  The data we receive from AMG survey provides a context to our work, which can feel isolated and flat without the national context of comparison.

Reexamining our hours of operation was a direct result of looking at our first year’s survey results. We have extended our weekend hours of operation and created more member hour perks as a result of understanding the data presented.  No museum should plan its operations and strategically look to its future in the vacuum of its own data, having access and an interpretation of the data helps our team stretch themselves to be better at delivering to the needs of our audience.

I would strongly advocate for more museums to participate in this annual survey.  At a reasonable cost to participate, the benefits received far outweigh the costs. Having participated in back to back years, the value of the investment has more than doubled for our team.

Lindy J. Hoyer

Executive Director

Omaha Children’s Museum


The Annual Survey [of Museum-Goers] allows Michigan Science Center to gain insight into the opinions of museum-goers nationally and the experiences of our guests locally. We love being able to benchmark our results against other museums. We’ve found that our guests primarily visit for time with family and generally want more new exhibits and programs compared to the topline results. The results from the Annual Survey allow our marketing and education teams to better understand our audience and empower us to promote MiSci as a customized set of experiences – live presentations, lab activities, hands-on exhibits, and theater shows – that our guests want! We highly recommend participation in the survey – Susie and her team distill complex datasets into meaningful takeaways for us. Plus, the more science centers and museums that participate, the greater the national understanding of how museum-goers value our role in society.

Cassie Byrd

Chief Learning Officer

Michigan Science Center


The changes we have made based on the [Annual Survey of] Museum-Goers research are helping us cultivate an audience for the future. We’ve grown audience engagement in our key 35-55 demographic by 155 percent since 2018, and our overall attendance continues to trend upward.

Trevor Jones

Director and CEO

History Nebraska


The Illinois State Museum uses data from the 2020 [Annual Survey of] Museum-Goers in many ways: helping us understand who our audiences are, informing our processes as we design programs and exhibitions, and most importantly, identifying for us who we are not seeing at the museum. This helps us interrogate who is missing, who is underrepresented at the ISM, and leads us to ask why and make a plan for organizational change.  Presented in graphically exciting ways, the Museum-Goers survey is also widely instructive for boards and staff as they are learning from and working with the data.

It is our intention to engage with the survey each year so that we can measure our change. When we make the purposeful plans and course corrections to deepen and broaden our audiences, the survey can serve as our informant as we move along. And, because AAM and Wilkening Consulting are thinking about timely events and impacts in the museum field, each year’s themes allows participants to gain highly relevant data that helps the museum stay abreast of issues and be part of trends, enabling museums to be responsive to audience and community needs and interests.

Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko

Museum Director

Illinois State Museum

Learn more about the 2020 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers

Fielded in the winter (2020-2021), as of March 21, 2020 there were 38,866 respondents from the email lists of 73 museums of all types. With a sample of this size, we are able to break it down in many ways, including highly specific demographic and life stage categories as well as by different attitudes, values, and behaviors.

Broader population comparison sampling was fielded concurrently with the Annual Survey in order to provide a comparison sample. The broader population comparison sampling had 1,787 respondents from across the country, with only 22% sharing that they had visited a museum in the previous year.

As the survey was fielded prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, AAM and Wilkening Consulting are following-up this survey with qualitative research among museum-goers, seeking to understand their current status, what they need from museums during closures and stay-at-home orders, and their hopes and fears for their communities during and post-pandemic.

Results from the 2020 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers will begin to be shared in September. As the qualitative research unfolds over the coming weeks, AAM and Wilkening Consulting will work to share insights with the field as quickly as possible.


Browse the 2020 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers Data Stories.


2020 Annual Survey of Museum-Goers themes

DEAI: How inclusive do museum-goers want museums to be? How does it vary by values and identity? How do we share DEAI values to yield greater acceptance among visitors?

Values and Identity: Museum-goers are characterized by many different values and identities. Understanding them can help us better understand their needs and their attitudes towards DEAI, social activism, and more.

Museums and Social Activism: Do audiences expect museums to be “neutral?” How do they feel about museums taking positions on social issues? And if we choose to take a position, what is the best way of sharing that position?

Curiosity: There is more than one type of curiosity. How do motivations and outcomes shift when people pursue their existing interests versus being delighted with answers to new questions versus finding new rabbit holes to fall into? Do the differences really matter?

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