Museums matter

Museums and Wellbeing Week launched to promote the benefits of culture to health

By Adrian Murphy

The first Museums and Wellbeing Week will take place next week with more than 50 museums holding events to showcase their health and wellbeing offer and raise awareness of the work they do in this area

The Museums and Wellbeing Week has been organised by the National Alliance for Museums, Health & Wellbeing, a consortium of museums and related organisations led by UCL Public and Cultural Engagement and funded by ACE. The alliance was established in July 2015 to share information about museums and health, to improve existing practice, help build resilience and provide support for individuals and organisations.

The Wellbeing Week will get under way with a delegation of museum professionals heading to the House of Lords where they will take part in a dedicated session of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Arts, Health and Wellbeing. The APPG for Arts, Health and Wellbeing was launched in November 2014 and is a two year enquiry investigating into how arts and culture can benefit health. Monday’s session will see museum professionals highlight the work they do to promote health and wellbeing and also answer Peers’ questions.

“In a recent survey conducted by the Alliance we have identified over 500 different programmes and projects; by far the largest area of activity is working with older adults, in particular people with dementia, but museums are also supporting mental health service users, working in hospitals with for example stroke survivors and delivering public health education through a variety of engaging and innovative programmes,” said Helen Chatterjee, Chair and Co-Founder of the alliance.

“A key outcome of this activity [APPG session] is to communicate that the museums sector is making an important contribution to public health through new programmes targeting a host of health and social care service users.”

Chatterjee said that research showed that museum engagement leads to reduced social isolation, opportunities for learning and acquiring news skills, increased positive emotions, self-esteem and sense of identity, a positive distraction from clinical environments and increased communication between families, carers and health professionals.

“So it’s important to convey this to commissioners and other health and social care professionals, as well as more widely such as policy makers, so that we can ensure museums are recognised as a vital community asset.”

Throughout the week more than 50 events will showcase this array of activity in museums across the country, from a Knit and Natter at the Black Country Living Museum, where participants will knit for the museum’s costume department while making new friends, to a dementia-friendly creative writing workshop at National Museum Cardiff.

Mansfield Museum has been busy distributing 700 museum wellbeing postcards across the town showing 15-minute routes around the museum to encourage workers to have a mindful and restful lunch break.

Art courses for people with mental health difficulties have been organised at Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury and the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket and there will be a death fair at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

The Alliance will also hold its first national conference on 2 March at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.

For a full list of events and to get involved visit the National Alliance for Museums, Health & Wellbeing website.