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Measuring the societal and economic benefits of museum visits in enhancing well-being

The Institute for Learning Innovation's study estimates the economic value of a museum visit in terms of these well-being benefits. This is estimated to be equivalent to $904.95 per person

Published: Jun 9, 2023 05:09:17 PM IST
Updated: Jun 9, 2023 05:20:49 PM IST

Measuring the societal and economic benefits of museum visits in enhancing well-being On average, the multi-day benefits of an art museum experience were equivalent to $905 per person per visit in economic value, the study states. Image: Shutterstock

Museum entrance fees are on the rise worldwide. While some are concerned about the impact this increase might have on the accessibility of cultural facilities, a new US study argues that these fees are outweighed by the benefits to visitors' well-being.

The Institute for Learning Innovation, a non-profit organization, conducted a survey among 5,499 people, all of whom visited one of 11 US-based partner museums between May and September 2022. These included the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Oakland Museum of California.

Study participants were assigned one of two questionnaires designed by researchers at the Institute for Learning Innovation to assess the benefits of their museum visit. The first asked them to rate the degree of well-being they had experienced by visiting one of the 11 selected cultural sites, by assessing various factors. The second invited them to assign a monetary value on a scale of zero to $1,000 to each of these wellness benefits, depending on how long they lasted.

The research team found that the vast majority of respondents said they felt the beneficial effects of their museum experience for several hours, even days. Some even felt them for weeks on end. On average, the physical and social benefits of a visit to a museum last a day, compared with a week for the intellectual and personal ones. But the benefits of a museum visit are not limited to any one of these four beneficial fields (ie, physical, social, intellectual and personal), since most respondents felt a positive impact on their overall well-being.

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Previous scientific studies have demonstrated the therapeutic virtues of museum visits for anxiety, stress and all kinds of illnesses, both physical and mental. But the Institute for Learning Innovation's study goes further, estimating the economic value of a museum visit in terms of these well-being benefits. This is estimated to be equivalent to $904.95 per person. In other words, with each visit to an art institution, a person could "save" this amount on a budget allocated to mental and physical well-being.

$325 million per year

Since museums receive millions of visitors every year, they make a major contribution to this field. "On average, each of these museums annually delivered in excess of $325 million in well-being-related economic value to their users. Ultimately, though, value cannot be judged merely by the gross benefits created, since it takes money to create this value in the first place. A cost-benefit analysis showed that the average ratio of benefits created relative to the costs of creating that value was equal to 1,171%, or roughly $12 of benefit achieved for every $1 spent," the Institute for Learning Innovation report explains.

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The purely economic value of the museum environment has always been difficult to quantify, given that art establishments are often perceived as necessary elements in the development of high-end tourism, rather than as vectors of improved individual and public health. This paradox was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to the prolonged closure of these "non-essential" venues.

William Cary, chief operating officer at the Barnes Foundation, hopes that the findings of this study will prompt public authorities to increase the budgets allocated to culture, and to museums in particular. "For funders and policymakers, this research provides a compelling, quantitative argument that thriving, well-supported cultural institutions are not ‘nice-to-haves’, they are ‘need-to-haves’ and that the return on their investment is significant and multi-faceted," he told The Art Newspaper.

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