The Ion Borcea” Natural Science Museum Complex in Bacau, Romania is comprised of four departments: Natural Science Museum, Vivarium, “Victor Anestin” Astronomical Observatory, and the “Ion Borcea” Memorial House. ADESTE sat down to talk with its Director, Gurău Gabriela, to learn more about how audience development is understood in Romania and which cultural organisations are having success in attracting new audiences.
ADESTE: How would you describe audience development and why do you think it is becoming more and more relevant nowadays?
Gurău Gabriela: Scientific museums should be more audience oriented. This is why its important to try to understand and know who are audiences are. We are carrying out studies on the impact of our projects and exhibitions in order to find out more about people's expectations when they come our museum.
In Romania, audience development is more part of a marketing tool and part of audience/visitors’ studies. For me, audience development is an interdisciplinary concept. It is about marketing and education, the overall development of audiences, and the results of strategic planning. All our projects at the musem - even the small ones - are an integral part of our audience development strategy. We have also invested a lot in exhibitions and hae seen the number of people coming to the museum grow. I would describe audience development like an ant colony. Each ant has a role in the colony, in the museum each person has a precise role and when you add up the effect you have the full picture of the museum, and this picture influences the audience. The management should take into account all the projects carried out inside the museum.
How do you see audience development in the national context in which you operate?
In Romania several national museums have tried to build an audience development strategy on their own. Unfortunately we lack of a national strategy. In our museum we experiment with new projects to bring in new audiences, like in the Diamond project, but we are not always successful. If there was an interest at the national level to build an audience development strategy, we would feel more supported that we are doing the right thing.
How do you implement audience development in your organisation?
Audience development is part of a management and marketing cultural strategy. In our organisation we carry out visitor studies as part of our audience development. Curators are directly involved in educational activities to make the audience aware of the importance of environmental protection. All the curators are young with modern ideas, and they try to implement their activities with modern methodology. Because we have the support of the curators we are able to carry out many projects and test ideas. Maybe in other museums curators don't have the same opportunities that we have in our museum that encourage experimentation and innovation.
Could you point out and describe some best audience development practices?
Several museums in Romania have an audience development strategy in place, such as the Grigore Antipa Musuem in Bucharest. They have done good work to change and refresh the image of the museum when opening a new exhibition with the support of an external company.
Another good example is the National museum of History and the Art in Bucharest. They changed the old image of the museum and hosted events and combining different cultural activities like theatre that have successfully increased particiaption numbers and diversified their audiences. The Astra Museum did some exciting and innovative projects in 2007 when Sibiu was a European Capital of Cultural.
What do you think it takes to be a good professional working in audience development? What kind of candidates would you be looking for if you were hiring?
The situation is complicated now in Romania as we have decreased the number of staff in museums. I do not know what is going to be the situation in the next 10 years, I’m not that optimistic about it. In ideal conditions a museum should have such a position responsible for audience development. That profile would be part of the museum's public relations department . For our organisation, the candidate should have intimate knowledge of how a scientific museum works, or at least how a museum works. He or she should have extensive knowledge about marketing strategy as well as strong IT skills and social skills.
What do you think will happen in the domain of audience development in the next five years? What will be the main challenges and trends?
I would like to say that in the next five years we could have the need for such a professional profile and maybe the demand will increase, but I think it will not be a profession due to the lack of resources. Unfortunately, I’m not that optimistic. Perhaps in the private sector these kind of figures will be developed as kind of external advisers. Currently we have a demand for specialists and curators. At this moment if I would have to choose between hiring a museum curator and an audience developer, I would choose a curator. As a compromise, maybe we could train curators in audience development organised by the Ministry of Culture.
Gurău Gabriela, Director of the Ion Borcea Natural Science Museum Complex
Gurău Gabriela is the Director of the Ion Borcea Natural Science Museum Complex in Bacau, Romania. She's in charge of coordinating and organising the activity of the museum: cultural education, scientific education and research project. She also manages the conservation of the patrimony/heritage, the image of the museum, and partnerships that the institution establishes with other organisations as well as administrative activities. She is responsible for the delivery of the marketing strategy as part of the organisation's management strategy.