How museums can leverage emotions to build greater public support

How museums can leverage emotions to build greater public support

Art Fund


Commissioned by Art Fund and the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) this report identifies how emotions can drive public support for museums. It includes practical recommendations on creating a case for support and campaigns that resonate emotionally with the public.


The start of 2023 has seen the continued impact of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, which have presented considerable challenges to museums’ operations, staff, and audiences. AIM’s recent Impacts Survey (September 2022) saw 40% of organisations planning to scale down activity and over a third struggling to increase income given economy-wide pressures.

Taking into account these challenges, Art Fund’s Looking Ahead Museum Directors Research (May 2022) found increasing earned income and developing relationships with communities were major priorities for the year ahead.

Even in the face of such adversity, there are numerous examples of passionate people across the UK supporting campaigns to ‘save’ their local museums.

What drives them? What can be learned about how local people feel about their museums? And how might we harness the public’s emotions in a more sustained way, rather than when under threat?

Now more than ever, we need to better understand how museums can leverage emotions to build greater public support. That understanding should help museums, funders and sector support organisations make a more compelling case to the public, and to policymakers, for that support.

This novel research, undertaken over summer 2022 by behavioural research and insights consultancy M.E.L, seeks to understand which emotions most powerfully drive public support for museums.

For those developing campaigns, it explores how to leverage the power of emotions to build greater public support. Through case studies and guidance, it looks at how campaigns are mounted, how people are mobilised, what motivates those involved, and what narratives or strategies resonate most effectively.

For those wanting to build longer-term emotional connection with their audiences, it includes practical recommendations for fostering emotionally driven engagement for museums, funding bodies and

We hope by highlighting the motivations behind emotional engagement in the museum context, we can strengthen your work, not just when campaigning, but in building sustained and sustainable relationships with your communities.

We are grateful to the museums who took time to participate in this research and are proud to support museums as they find creative ways to activate emotionally driven public support.

Lisa Ollerhead, AIM Director
Sarah Philp, Director of Programme and Policy, Art Fund

Read Pleasure, Connection and Purpose: How museums can leverage emotions to build greater public support (PDF)

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Increasing Engagement & Income
Resource type: Research | Published: 2023