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Museum Websites Are Getting Better, But I Have Two Pet Peeves

While I was checking around on museum websites the other day to see which ones would be open on Jan. 1 and which would not, I noticed that many museums have updated their websites in recent months, mostly for the good.  Some have been radically redesigned and show off their art handsomely. A few look a tad corporate to me. And everyone’s got moving images (which is bad news only if they take a long time to load).

Websites2But I noticed two big deficiencies. On some, it’s actually hard to find out visiting hours and, worse, admission fees. In a few cases, to find hours, I had to click three or four times to get to the page with information. For admission fees, some museum make visitors to their website go to the “Buy Tickets” section even before they disclose the cost of admission. That’s inexcusable, and I’d bet those museums have people turning away before they get there to find out the number.

This isn’t just my feeling: though I could not find a study of museum patrons, I did see a recent longitudinal study of the “mobile preferences” of arts patrons (admittedly, phones are not the only way people access museum websites, but it is one big way) by an arts consultant called Group of Minds, which appears to have focused on performing arts groups (it’s unclear). Group of Minds contacted 45,000 patrons of half-price/discounted ticket email lists in six cities. The survey received a response rate of 4.3%.

Group of Minds discovered that “Seventy percent of respondents said they would use their phone to look up arts events if given the opportunity, up from 45% in 2009.” And what the respondents wanted most was logistical information: address and directions to the event, parking information, and the like. You can read the whole survey here.

I can’t think of why it would be different for museums — people need easy access to logistical information.

My second beef is personal: it’s about the press links. Many don’t have a press office listed on the home page, where it belongs. Some museums do not disclose the names or phone numbers of their press representatives. There may be a general phone number, which inevitably leads to voicemail, and a general info@… or pressoffice@… email contact. Sometimes not even that.

Past press releases — forget about it. There might be the last half-dozen, say, but when I need to check something that happened a few years ago… no dice.

I find this lack of access hard to believe. I know press offices get nuisance calls from people who are not in the media. Guess what? So do reporters and people in other occupations.

Time was when reporters could put in a call or send an email and wait for an answer from someone… anyone. That’s over. Chances are, if I can’t get a name and contact point on your website, I’m moving on to the next museum, unless I absolutely need to start searching on the web for an old contact name. I don’t think I’m alone. If you want press — and the number of emails I receive suggests that you do — try to be a little more open with what you put online, please. Thank you.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nitin360



  1. “On some, it’s actually hard to find out visiting hours and, worse, admission fees.”
    My sentiments exactly.

    And how about prominently displayed closing dates?
    On the Museum of Modern Art site the ending date for the Abstraction show was buried in a side bar in the section on the exhibit which I located only after great pain. I was so incensed I wrote them an e-mail about it suggesting a list on the left which included “Current Exhibitions.”

  2. Thank you! In the interest of being “arty” the raison d’etre for having a website in the first place is lost all over the net. I hope museum leadership hears you.

  3. Steven Miller says

    I agree with you Judith and I would like to add two other things to museum websites: a copy of the latest financial audit and a complete list of staff. I am not speaking about the required IRS 990 form, but the real audit that most museums have done by an independent auditor and is accepted or approved by a museum’s board of trustees. Sometimes this is published in a museum’s annual report but usually with condensed numbers. Besides, annual reports seem to be fading, in hard or cyber copy. As for publishing staff lists, some museums do it and even include e-mail addresses. I’m of two minds about listing an e-mail address because I know how staff might be “harassed” by, God-forbid, the “general public” but any increase in accessibility reduces notions of exclusivity and removal. Oh, I just thought of a third thing I’d like to see on websites, all staff salaries.

  4. I completely agree. When I go to a museum website I want to quickly find the days and hours it is open; the current and future exhibitions; the entrance fee; and directions. But often you must wade through arty screens that take up time and mislead you. The website for MOMA is particularly bad; the word “exhibitions” appears (in tiny type) only under illustrations, and only under some of them, and only some of the time. Even when you get to the page with the exhibitions list, it keeps reformatting, so that if you leave it and return, the box with the exhibit info will have moved and you have to find it all over again. Since the page currently has about 20 exhibits listed (and some are one column and some are two, but both kinds have two-toned screens) this is maddening!

    MOMA also has the worst coatcheck of any museum I have ever visited.

    The Guggenheim and the Met, on the other hand, have very good, clearly navigable home pages on their websites.

    If I may, I’d like to put in a plug for MOMA’s current blockbuster: “Inventing Abstraction: 1910-1925.” It is stupendous. And the info on the website gives you no sense at all of how spectacular it is.

  5. Michael Black says

    Judith, you mentioned that logistical information is what most (potential) museum visitors are looking for at museum websites. I totally agree, and would add that gimmicks on websites like videos and flash media are bad substitutes for what lies at the essence of museums: viewing real art, usually in silence.

    Every museum of a respectable size should be producing advance exhibition schedules, and these should be downloadable from their websites. Even for current shows, a lot of websites use wishy-washy menu tab titles like “What’s On”. Why can’t they rely on easily understood, traditional categories such as Exhibitions, Hours, Admission, Location, Calendar, Permanent Collection, Contact, etc.?

  6. Yes, I’ve often found it frustrating, trying to find opening times. I think too that many museum websites are inappropriate for the mobile web – partly because of the number of images and, as you say, moving images. In general, the sector seems too often to assume that we all read off desktops or laptops.


  1. […] Museum Websites Are Getting Better, But I Have Two Pet Peeves While I was checking around on museum websites the other day to see which ones would be open on Jan. 1 and which would not, I noticed that many museums have updated their websites in recent months, mostly for the good. […]

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