Museums, health & wellbeing

Last week, our Artist Coordinator attended the very first National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing conference in Manchester. The conference was aimed at museum professionals looking to develop their health and wellbeing offer and provided ample opportunity for networking and sharing information about current museum and wellbeing activities happening across the country. Below, Hannah Whitlock reflects on the day.

“Wednesday 2 March saw the first National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing conference, which was held at The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The event included five different talks from people and organisations working in the arts and wellbeing sector, with additional activities throughout the day varying from tours of the gallery, to life drawing and integrated mindfulness using the Whitworth collection.

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Some of the work from the Musgrave Kinley collection at the Whitworth

The focus of the day was to provide a space to be able to explore the contribution museums can make to health & wellbeing from a range of different perspectives.

Gregor Henderson, National Lead for Wellbeing and Mental Health at Public Health England started us off with a poignant question: how can we measure the impact of personal wellbeing? Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture & Society at the Wellcome Trust noted that facts and figures are not sufficient on their own for this; we need to look beyond these.

Roseann Logan and Chris Govery from Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland spoke about how it has been a powerful experience for them to capture the unique stories of the people they support. We listened to a poem by an 11 year old girl called Jade about how she lost her mother and father. I was able to connect with and relate to this narrative in a way I perhaps wouldn’t be able to by reading figures and statistics. This highlighted that both data and stories can contribute to how we demonstrate impact for evaluation purposes.

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More work from the Whitworth collection

At Outside In, we are lucky enough to work with evaluator Susan Potter who collects qualitative and quantitative data from artists, partners and venues about the project and its wider impact. Her evaluation reports help us look at the impact Outside In has on the wellbeing of the people we work with. Our evaluation report in 2014 showed that “the sense of ‘belonging’ to the Outside In project and ‘working’ with Pallant House Gallery and/or one of its partner organisations is seen to increase levels of self-esteem and wellbeing amongst participants, providing a sense of meaning and purpose to their lives.”

Jeremy Kimmel from Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery appeared passionate about partnership working and being able to share ways of evaluating the impact of projects on wellbeing that work for each participating organisation, as he said: “We are all in this together.”

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A Leon Underwood work next to a Jimmy Lee Sudduth

One of the highlights was being in a contemporary art gallery with a renowned collection of Outsider Art – the Musgrave Kinley Collection which was donated to the Gallery when both the collectors passed away. It was also great to see that the Whitworth exhibits work by mainstream artists in their collection alongside work by Outsider artists. For example, there was a Leon Underwood next to a Jimmy Lee Sudduth. It was powerful to see the work displayed in this way; putting the art on a level playing field and imbuing each piece with equal value. I was able to get a closer look at these works during the ‘Behind the Scenes tour: Outsider Art Collection’ in the afternoon.

Maria Balshaw, Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, ended the day on with a positive and inspirational talk. She noted proudly that the team at the Gallery have created an environment which makes people feel comfortable, and which is open and accessible to the community. Many thanks for to the National Alliance for organising such a though provoking and interesting day!”

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