Evaluating Engagement with Art at Hampton Court Palace

Sponsor: Historic Royal Palaces
Sponsor Liaison: Aaron Manning
Student Team: Emilia Krum, Juliet Morin, Moet O’Donnell, Joseph Saladino
Abstract: Historic Royal Palaces is opening the Wolsey Rooms to showcase Tudor art at Hampton Court Palace (HCP) in 2024. Our project evaluated visitor segmentation and art engagement at HCP to inform the design of the Wolsey Rooms. We conducted 4 semi-structured staff interviews to better understand their goals for visitor engagement coupled with 196 observations, 46 surveys, and 110 interviews at Henry VIII’s State Apartments, Cumberland Art Gallery, and William III’s Apartments to understand how visitors engage with art at HCP. Our findings suggested that visitors preferred well-lit rooms, more information on displays, and personal stories of historical figures. For the Wolsey Rooms, we recommend that HCP adheres to visitor preferences while maintaining the historical atmosphere of the exhibit.

Evaluating Engagement with Art at Hampton Court Palace Report

Evaluating Engagement with Art at Hampton Court Palace Presentation

Executive Summary

In 2018-2019, roughly 72% of England’s residents aged 16 and older said they visited a heritage or historic site within the past year (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 2021). One classification of heritage sites is historic houses, the former homes of historic figures that have been converted into museums and are open to visitors. These sites play a distinct role in London heritage by providing visitors with a personal and emotional connection to some of the city’s most notable figures and events. Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), a charity organization that manages six unoccupied royal palaces in the UK, is dedicated to creating a “space for spirits to stir and be stirred,” where visitors can feel welcomed, encouraged to explore, and learn the stories of the monarchs (Official Site, n.d.).
HRP commissioned this study to evaluate visitor engagement with art in preparation for the opening of the Wolsey Rooms in 2024 at one of HRP’s palaces, Hampton Court Palace (HCP). The Wolsey Rooms will showcase a collection of Tudor portraits and paintings, immersing visitors in the world of the 16th century. The goal of this project was to evaluate visitor segmentation and art engagement at Henry VIII’s State Apartments (HSA), Cumberland Art Gallery (CAG), and William III’s Apartments (WA) to understand of how visitors engage with art at HCP’s exhibits to inform the design of the upcoming Wolsey Rooms. To achieve this goal, our team had two main objectives:
1. Understand HRP staff intentions and expectations for visitor engagement.
2. Assess interpretive techniques and visitor engagement with art at HCP.

For our first objective we conducted semi-structured interviews with three HRP staff members who helped create the three exhibits, and one staff who has experience working directly with visitors. We conducted interviews with Aileen Peirce (Head of Interpretation and Design), Brett Dolman (HCP Curator of Collections), and Eva Koch-Schutle (Executive Producer) to understand the history of the exhibits, the thought process of designing an exhibit, and the staff perspective/goals for visitor engagement. We also interviewed Aurora Heimsath (Leader of the Palace Host Team) to aid our process of visitor observation and learn how the operational staff saw visitors engage with art. These interviews took place either in-person or virtually, involved asking 5 to 8 questions, and lasted between 30 to 60 minutes.
For our second objective, we used visitor observation, surveys, and interviews to understand how visitors interact with art in HCP. We conducted an observation study of 196 visitors, documenting their emotional reactions to the art (e.g., curious, focused, uninterested, etc.) and physical behavior (e.g., reading signs, speaking to others, wandering/stopping, etc.) within the exhibit. To supplement our observation data, we conducted visitor surveys and interviews. We surveyed 46 visitors upon their exit from the exhibit to learn how they engaged with art, their overall reaction to the exhibit, and their motivations for coming to HCP. Our visitor interviews complemented the surveys as we asked visitors open-ended questions regarding the most engaging part of the exhibit, whether any part of the exhibit evoked emotion, and if any part of the exhibit made them consider history more deeply. In total we collected 110 responses for our 3 interview questions. We used a combination of inductive coding and quantitative data analysis to identify major themes across our visitor observation, survey, and interview data.

We categorized the data collected from the visitor observations, surveys, and interviews, into five areas: staff expectation for visitor engagement, lighting, information displays, historical context and immersion, and connection to audience segmentation. Across all staff interviews, there were two goals that stood out among the staff members: to create an experience that draws the visitors in, and to have exhibits to provoke emotional engagement from the visitors. Based on our visitor responses we found three improvements that visitors wanted: better lighting for the artworks, more signage and explanation of pieces, and personal engagement with the historical figures. Visitors across all three of the exhibits rated the lighting of the exhibit on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best. Lighting was rated between 3.47 to 3.63, which means that visitors found lighting “ok” to “good” and enjoyed the other aspects of the exhibit more (see Figure I).

Figure I: Bar graph comparing the average rating visitors gave to six aspects of the exhibits in the surveys (1 is bad and 5 is great)

Based on our observations in HSA and the CAG, 53% and 63% of visitors respectively read any kind of signage in the exhibit (see Figure II). From observation data of WA there was less engagement with signage at 33%. One survey response stated that “there’s very little information about the artwork.”

Figure II: The average percentage of visitors who read informative displays across all exhibits from observations

Across responses to all 3 interview questions, visitors to HSA emphasized the importance of being immersed in the past; 16 of all 36 responses (44%) mentioned history or being immersed in the past as factors that positively impacted their experience. Similarly, when asked about which part of the exhibit evoked emotion in WA, 7 out of 13 interview responses mentioned royalty, which shows a relationship between visitors learning about royalty and emotional response.
Our findings show the majority of HRP’s audience can be categorized in the explorer segmentation group. Although visitors can fall into multiple segmentation groups (9 of 46 visitors), we found that a total of 31 out of 46 visitors (67%) across all three exhibits were explorers (see Figure III).

Figure III: Bar graph comparing the percentage of audience segmentation groups across the exhibits

Overall, the upcoming Wolsey Rooms should be akin to HSA; curated to tell the story of the historical figures with a focal point on the proper presentation of art to create an experience that draws the visitors in and provokes emotional engagement. To accomplish this, we have three recommendations for HRP and the Wolsey Rooms:
1. Use lighting and reduce reflections to highlight the art pieces.
2. Add detailed signage to elicit visitor curiosity.
3. Emphasize personal stories through choice of artwork, while keeping the historical atmosphere of the room.
To enhance the visitor experience, we suggest HRP prioritize the art in their exhibits by creating environments that cater to the artwork. This can be achieved through the use of lighting and signage that emphasizes the art as the focal point of the exhibit while the rest of the room immerses the visitor in the history of the palace. This will enable visitors to appreciate the artworks and feel like they have stepped back in time.

We also recommend that HRP curates the Wolsey Rooms with art that tells the personal stories of historical figures. Telling personal stories humanizes historical figures and often evokes emotional responses from visitors. Creating this emotional connection will make a more memorable experience for the visitors.