The museum as a space for wellbeing

I love that museums can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing. So when I was given the opportunity to join Jane Miller (Community Engagement Officer) for a day during National Museums & Wellbeing Week, I was excited to experience what our museum could offer.

We started the day by hosting a Museum Social for people affected by Dementia and their relatives, friends and carers. On this occasion, the event was inspired by the Art, Design and Fashion galleries which are full of colours, textures, shapes and materials ready to inspire visitors and craft makers alike.

Examples of objects in the Art, Design and Fashion galleries that inspired the craft makers at the event: Ring, pink enamel and precious yellow metal by Jacqueline Ryan, 2000 (currently on display in the Making and Creating gallery, Level 3); Sample of woven women’s fashion fabric entitled Festival, part of a group of samples compiled by Bernat Klein, c. 1963 – 1967 (currently on display in the Fashion and Style gallery, Level 1); ‘Morris dress’ of Venetian wool and satinised organza by Holly Fulton, Spring/Summer 2015 (currently on display in the Fashion and Style gallery, Level 1).

 

The museum Seminar Room with craft library books, drawing materials and conversation starters, as well as tea, coffee, jam tarts, cakes and grapes
The museum Seminar Room ready for the Social with craft library books, drawing materials, conversation starters and treats

Laura Murray started the morning off with plenty of colour and texture; talking about her practice as a jewellery maker based in Glasgow. She highlighted that she was inspired by the jewellery in the Making and Creating gallery and the way in which contemporary jewellers work with new, unexpected materials and techniques. Handing around her creations, the group were able to feel the weight and textures of the objects and discuss the details of the works.

A few examples of Laura’s tactile creations that were passed around: a colourful rubber trinket, ribbon purses woven using basketry techniques and a felt sporran with pen lid tassels
A few examples of Laura’s tactile creations that were passed around: a colourful rubber trinket, ribbon purses woven using basketry techniques and a felt sporran with pen lid tassels

Joanna Kessel then spoke about her work as a maker working with mosaic, concrete and glass in her Edinburgh studio, which has been inspired by Bernat Klein textiles, Fair Isle knitting patterns and Holly Fulton’s ‘Morris dress’ in the Fashion and Style gallery. The group then handled the artworks and discussed them amongst themselves. It was fantastic to see the objects being enjoyed as they drew out different conversations and memories.

Joanna speaking about her contemporary mosaic work and a collection of Joanna’s works together with a basket of loose tiles ready for making
Joanna speaking about her contemporary mosaic work and a collection of Joanna’s works together with a basket of loose tiles ready for making

After the talks and craft handling, the group had the opportunity to make their own brooches and mosaics. There were so many different interpretations created from just a few simple materials as you will see in the photos below! The room felt like a cheerful, relaxed and stimulating space to be in, so I could easily see why Museum Socials are having a positive impact on those who attend. I certainly felt better for being there.

A selection of the brooches made during the event
A selection of the brooches made during the event
A selection of the mosaics made: Joanna’s example of a cool and hot palette with one tile swapped to create an accent colour in both; A personal colour palette developed through a process of arranging and rearranging the mosaic tesserae (blocks); A loose mosaic exploring the idea of bus routes and paths around the museum; A cold mosaic inspired by the idea of a bird’s-eye cityscape
A selection of the mosaics made by the participants

Over lunch I learnt more about what the museum has provided to improve wellbeing. For example, early openings for people on the autism spectrum, Tai Chi in the Grand Gallery, family trails at the National War Museum and National Museum of Flight and loan boxes for schools and community groups.

Then in the afternoon, Jane and I went to the entrance hall to greet a group of refugees. We showed them where they could enjoy their lunch before exploring the galleries and they were kind enough to let us try some of their homemade chana daal, brioche with sweet cheese and rice with coriander and cumin. Through their Urdu and Arabic interpreter, we learnt to say “tasty” in Arabic: “zis”, if I remember correctly! Jane then gave the children in the group an animal trail to follow in the Natural World galleries that includes the chance to draw a picture of your favourite animal. The simple acts of welcoming groups on arrival and saying “farewell” and “thank you” at the end of the day makes the museum a more relaxing space to be by easing anxieties that may have been felt.

Working with Jane for the day was an eye-opening experience. I’ve previously thought the beautiful spaces, objects and stories in the museum could be enough to improve mental health and that walking around the large spaces and staircases could help encourage physical activity. But the work being done by the community team is doing so much more than that; they are bringing life to the museum’s collections and connecting with visitors. More importantly, they are creating conversations, sparking ideas and forming closer, healthier communities. So let our museum be there for your wellbeing too: mind, body and community. I know I will.

Museum Social participant Meryl’s brooch inspired by the mosaic
Museum Social participant Meryl’s brooch inspired by the mosaic

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