ART THERAPY IN MUSEUMS
HOW CAN ART IMPROVE OUR WELL-BEING?
As time went by, museums have expanded their services in many different ways. Once exclusively used as places to exhibit art pieces, at the moment museums operate as workshop areas, party venues or theatre stages. Turning exhibits into therapy rooms is another usage they adopted recently, which is not so common yet. One by one, institutions start to embrace this idea and initiate programs that aim to provide art therapy in their own space.
First of all, let’s learn how art therapy works in museums. Even though museums are not the designated places for psychotherapy, these two settings have much in common: they both aim to create awareness and lead to a change. They both contain aspects that are different from the average, easily distinguishable and even provocative for some. They both aim for people to gain experiences that are not similar to any previous ones. But one main difference is that psychotherapy wants people to become self-aware whereas museums reflect their themes through engagement in groups and by bringing together the artist and the visitor (Laird,n.d.).
Inexplicitly, museums have always served to contribute to their visitor’s well-being by allowing them to discover different perspectives, comparing these to their own and give them space to express themselves in the light of these brand new ideas. These meaningful interactions with art pieces can lead to mental healing for many. New art therapy practices in museums benefit from all of these ideas by taking participants on a new self-discovery journey, inspired by art (Patmali, 2017). In many of the sessions, besides exploring current exhibits and making interpretations on the deeper meaning of art pieces, the participants are asked to create a product (e.g. painting, sculpture, photography) themselves, under the supervision of professional art therapists. The purpose of this activity is to give them the opportunity to reflect on their inner world. Another benefit of this activity is that it allows creators to check their piece again in the future and self-evaluate it; thus, it is also a great tool to watch one’s improvements. Additionally, throughout this whole process, the individuals have the chance to socialize with new people with similar interests, relieve from their daily stress and expand their imagination, all of which would add up to their well-being (National Gallery of Australia, n.d.).
And now, let’s investigate some practices that museums around the world are delivering:
1. National Museum of Contemporary Art, Athens (EMST): Their unique program called “Exploring the Museum’s Images – Exploring My Image” enables participants to have discussions on artworks and on the lives of the artists. Afterwards they use these ideas to make self-evaluations. The main intention of this project is to help these individuals become involved in a community, earn the feeling of belongingness to a group, and become creative with the artwork they create after discussions. When creating artwork with the guidance of supervising art therapists, they express their emotions, thoughts and memories which increases their self-awareness, reduces the concerns accumulated whilst repressing their feelings, ultimately strengthening their self-esteem (Patmali, 2017).
2. National Gallery of Australia: “Art and Dementia” tours provided by this museum aim to reach people living with dementia and become a tool to connect with the world. The program rises against the idea that “Dementia is a reason to stay isolated” and allows individuals to break down their walls. Through art-related discussions, the participants get to exchange ideas, express themselves and recall old experiences. The intellectual stimulation that takes place is a very significant factor in this project, as it leads to the widening of the perspectives of the participant. Another great aim that the project serves is raising awareness on Dementia and fighting the social stigma associated with it (National Gallery of Australia, n.d.).
3. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: Here you see another museum that takes part in this well-being revolution. They have many different projects for different groups, such as young adults who have speech disorders or sensory impairments and people who have concerns about their body image, but anyone can find a program that would suit their needs. All projects follow 3 steps: visiting exhibitions with an educator, participating in creative workshops and presenting their artwork in the Museum. According to the conditions of the group, a supervisor with relevant specialization leads the activities. The main intention in each project is to boost the participants’ self-esteem, belongingness and positivity, as well as give them space to reflect on their inner self (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, n.d.).
Many other institutions work on adopting this idea, and as this continues, the recognition of art therapy and its benefits will increase too. Quoting Elisabeth Ioannides, who is an Assistant Curator at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens and a Psychology and Fine Arts graduate, “Museums provide safe places for reflection and participants find the spaces and the artwork inspirational.“ (Patmali, 2017). This makes them the perfect place for people to learn more about themselves and work on what they want to change. Thus, art therapy practices in museums can become a useful means for many, giving them the opportunity to use their imagination, get inspired and face their inner challenges.
National Gallery of Australia. (n.d.). Art & Dementia Tours.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (n.d.). Art Therapy and Health.
Laird, R. (n.d.). Mental Health Considerations for Museums: An emerging field of practice and discovery. Ross Laird.
Patmali, L. (2017) Art Therapy in Museums. Museeum.