How cultural experiences can improve health and wellbeing

Museums for Health and Well-being Conference Highlights

On Wednesday 2nd March, at the Whitworth Art Gallery, the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Wellbeing (NAMHW) held their first ever national conference. The event, Museums for Health and Well-being, was very well attended with over 160 delegates, mostly made up of museum professionals. The day was split into two halves: talks in the morning and a choice of workshops and tours in the afternoon.

Public Health England’s National Lead for Well-being and Mental Health, Gregor Henderson, started things off with his keynote ‘Curating for Well-being’.  Henderson argued that efforts should made to promote well-being in the community. He argued that health needs to be thought of as more complex than simply being free from disease and that a multitude of factors, many of which are socio-economic in nature, contribute to health problems. He stressed the need to realise the potential of culture in improving health and well-being and to use cultural activities, partly, as a way tackling wider social and public issues such as isolation and to build supportive and inclusive communities. Henderson highlighted how health and culture programmes can help people develop their sense of self, their agency and their role in society, three things that are vital for a person’s well-being. He concluded by highlighting the value of evaluation of such programmes.

Wellcome Trust Director of Culture and Society, Simon Chaplin, discussed the work being carried out by the Trust. Chaplin stated that the Wellcome Trust has developed a new perspective resulting in funding to areas that investigate the role of culture in health and well-being. This is substantial as the Trust has a £5 billion budget over the next five years. Chaplin discussed many of the Trust’s engagement projects such as The Crunch and projects which are supported by Wellcome Trust funding such as Voice Collective. He also highlighted work with the World Health Organisation and their new focus on well-being in global health policy. Like Henderson, Chaplin stressed the importance of evaluation and argued that qualitative measurements should be considered extremely valuable when evaluating well-being.

Chair and Co-founder Prof Helen Chatterjee and Project Coordinator Krisztina Lackoi both introduced the National Alliance for Museums, Health and Well-being (NAMHW). Lackoi and Chatterjee celebrated the growing membership of NAMHW which is funded by Arts Council England. They stated that its aims were, in part, to create a network of individuals and organisations working in the museum sector with a focus on health and well-being. NAMHW is formed of a number of project partners including (among others): UCL Public and Cultural Engagement, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, Research Centre for Museums and Galleries Partnership (University of Leicester) and Manchester Museums and Galleries partnership (the full list of partners can be found here).

Roseann Logan and Chris Gourley from Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (known as ‘The Alliance’) discussed the current policies in place in Scotland which put well-being at the heart of public health.  They also spoke of the successes of the National Links Worker programme which focuses on creating a networked community. This programme involves an array of co-ordinated initiatives such as increasing signposting to community activities that may help with an individual’s well-being.

Jeremy Kimmel, Audience Development Manager at Tunbridge Museum and Art Gallery, discussed the ways museums can overcome barriers to organising health and well-being programmes. Kimmel highlighted the importance of teaming up and working with partnerships to pool resources and knowledge.

After lunch there were a choice of workshops and tours showcasing both current and previous arts and health programmes the Whitworth has been involved in. These included a life drawing workshop showcasing the ArtMed programme, a Mindfulness session, and an object handling for well-being workshop.  Other activities on offer were a talk about a project which explored the use of the works of Wallis in mental health arts classes. There were also tours of the sculptures in Whitworth Park and the Outsider Art on display in the gallery. There were also pop-up stands located in the gallery from arts and health programmes.

The Director of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Maria Balshaw, delivered the closing key note. The day was then drawn to a close with a wine reception and an uplifting performance by the Stroke Association Choir.