A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend the Museums, Health & Wellbeing Summit organized by MuseumNext. As you may know, the theme of wellbeing (in and out of museums) is something that deeply interests and intrigues me. In fact, over the years, I have learned that caring for oneself (and the surroundings) is what really constitutes the human existence and it’s at the bottom of an inspiring and successful life.
Therefore, I was thrilled to watch many museum professionals, from all over the world, bring on some of their successful case studies and experiences related to health and wellbeing in museums. I quite honestly didn’t even think it has such big impact in today’s art organizations, although, with all that we are going through on a global scale, it makes perfect sense (and the opposite would probably be bizarre.)
How to work on helping improve mental health in fragile subjects? How to build resilience in children in need? Or how to support those how suffer from age-related disease, like dementia? These and more questions were answered during the three-day summit, and what these leaders have gone through can definitely help others in the same place not make the same mistakes.
So today, I will report two to three of my favorite sessions. I must also add that the video layout was great (only wifi was needed), the sessions were very easy to access through a link that was provided via email every day, a few minutes before the start, and I assume the videos were pre-registered since the word captions were also perfect.
Bryanne Senor, wellness practitioner of nearly 20 years and Manager of the Mindful Museum Programs at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, explained how mindfulness can be found anytime and anywhere, if one only creates the opportunity for it.
Slowing down in order to lead more present and calm lives begins with the thought of acting on that purpose and, after all, museums do a great job with keeping most of their alleys quiet and focusing on cultivating mindful relationships with their public. The setting can obviously make a big difference.
Another great session was held by Tracie McCambridge from the Wexner Center for the Arts. They talked about how to create community wellbeing through special programs and how to build art and resilience foundations through, for instance, the service to the military, to incarcerated women and even through a program called “Art on the Brain” for families and individuals living with brain trauma trying to find a new normal.
From their talk:
“It’s important to work cautiously and to be mindful of how your approach will impact the people you work with. Therefore, you should continuously check your motivation. What you do must come from a genuine place: empowering people.”
The speaker also alerted us: we should always know your limitations, stepping back and thinking about where the gaps in knowledge are, or in resources, or even in expertise. We should include who needs to be part of the process (ex. contractors, staff, yoga teachers). We should also form and create our community by fostering a space that nurtures, and this can start before people enter the building by, for instance, attending the spaces that are relevant to these people. Art and museums have so much potential for doing this work and they should make people feel safe enough to open up.
Another panel I really enjoyed was “Museum as a wellness resort for the senses: learning from disabilities” by Marleen Hartjes from the Van Abbemuseum and Barbara Strating from the Maastricht University.
They start with a catchy phrase: “If you don’t feel represented, museums can be exclusive”. It was so powerful that they had me all ears right away. Explaining how to go from an eyes-only space to a place for bodies as a whole, the speaker highlighted how “human beings are not human doings” and that, being places for our senses, museums should be designed for all senses. There must be in place an inclusive design process.
Marleen then explained their collaboration with blind designer Simon Dogger, following the advice “nothing about them without them.” Last but not least, they talked about how important it is to listen and learn from the perspectives, ideas and insights of your specific group and how relevant it is to create, for instance, touchable objects, fragrances, and even new standards for placards that were coated in a way they could be cleaned every day without losing their brilliance.
So there you have it.
Yes, studies show that museums help reduce stress, remove social isolation and even improve our self-esteem: all this is profoundly linked to our health. And making it the subject of a three-day summit, I must admit, is an honest and caring act. Thanks to the organizers.
Bringing together eye-opening presentations and practical advice from the Illuminati in the museum field is something one should expect from any organization that claims to support and enrich the field. And the perspectives I have gained attending the summit are actually applicable in any field.