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Ask the Expert Q&A, 24 March: Museums & Health and Wellbeing – by Louise Thompson

Louise Thompson, Learning Manager at Manchester Art Gallery, will be answering your questions on Health and wellbeing & Museums on Thursday 24 March between 2-3pm GMT.

Louise Thompson delivers a programme of health and wellbeing with it’s focus around mental health at Manchester Art Gallery. 

With a particular emphasis on exploring mindfulness through engaging with and making art, the health and wellbeing programme has captured the interest of health and wellbeing professionals, along with groups and individuals interested in taking care of their own mental health. Louise works with artists and health professionals to deliver this programme of targetted projects and public events including Therapeutic Thursday, Mindful Marks, The Art of Wellbeing Tour and the increasingly popular Take Notice workshops.

Louise says: “Art enables us to learn, connect, take notice and delight in the world around us.  Our programme of workshops and events invites people to experience our world class art in a rejuvenating way. Visitors can come to Manchester Art Gallery to practice techniques that reduce stress and discover innovative ways to improve their health and wellbeing through creativity and art (inside the gallery and in everyday life).

The health and wellbeing programme at Manchester Art Gallery uses the gallery’s rich exhibitions and collections to enable to people to improve, maintain and enhance their health and wellbeing. The programme seeks to give people the opportunity to learn lifelong wellbeing skills – like Mindfulness – to practice them through art and creativity with support of professionals and then develop them in their everyday life, beyond the gallery walls. Mindfulness and the 5 Ways to Wellbeing are at the core of the programme.

See Manchester Art Gallery  Health and Wellbeing

Also see a film from Manchester Art Gallery

Louise Thompson, will be answering your questions on Health and wellbeing & Museums on Thursday 24 March between 2-3pm GMT.

You can post questions before the Q & A session, on 24 March, or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question, or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyask.

Comments have to be moderated, to protect the blog from spam, so if your comment doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry, we’ll get to it as quickly as we can.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to [email protected]

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contact with us and let us know.

Your Comments

  1. Fiona Green |

    How would you start looking at introducing health and wellbeing into a gallery? What are the first steps?
    Do you have any suggestions for sustainability when museum and galleries budgets are being cut?
    How do you evaluate the impact of these types of activities?

  2. Louise Thompson |

    How would you start looking at introducing health and wellbeing into a gallery?
    Art galleries/museums and wellbeing are a perfect coupling. It is not difficult for us to create conditions for wellbeing with the spaces and resources we find ourselves in. Art, objects, stories, people, togetherness, learning, inspiring, connecting.

    I would say start with what is already happening around you. A lot of the work that museums have been doing for years with our audiences has always been wellbeing – centric. So what are you already doing that you could develop further? Perhaps, with a more health and wellbeing focus,

    Or maybe you want to do something different or you want to start from scratch? In that case, this is very exciting.
    Firstly, consider your audience. Who are you trying to engage? Reach? The general public (we all have mental health and we all need to look after it) or do you want to work with groups of mental health service users? Do you want to work with prevention or recovery? Or like here at Manchester Art Gallery – BOTH.
    If you want to work with service users you must, must work in partnership with the health sector or charity sector. It doesn’t have to be big. Get in touch with organisations who you want to partner with (do your research) and ask them. Let’s do a project together.
    If you want to work with the general public the the 5 Ways to wellbeing is your best starting point.

    What are the first steps?
    Really get to know the Five Ways to Wellbeing, do your homework – start to develop simple regular activity that incorporates one or more of those 5 Ways into the core of the activity. Keep the 5 Ways at the core of your work and you can’t go far wrong.

    Do you have any suggestions for sustainability when museum and galleries budgets are being cut?
    Strategic partnerships. Build alliances with people/orgs whose agenda is compatible with yours. They can often apply for funding that Cultural orgs are not eligible for. Eg. Health sector, science orgs. etc And more importantly, don’t lose hope. Everything changes and it’ll get better.

    How do you evaluate the impact of these types of activities?
We evaluate impact through various ways; a combination of direct visitor feedback in comments books. Documentation through photography. Wellbeing measures; MAAS, WEMWEBS, UCL WELLBEING UMBRELLA. Regular observational feedback from artists, staff and volutneers. I can’t stress this enough. They’re the eyes and ears of the work. Brief them to look out for signs of increased wellbeing. Social connections being made, statements, increase in confidence, comments and actions participants make. And then ask them at the end of every session to feedback what they’ve observed. WRITE IT DOWN, keep a journal of this. It’s hard work, everyone’s tired and wants to switch off but this should be the last task. Talk it out, reflect, all the time, with colleagues you respect and admire.

  3. Caroline Rawle |

    Hi, I’m interested to know if there’s any thoughts about using specific museum objects for reminiscence sessions? If we don’t use them then what is the point of us doing this rather than social services/care-home staff/families, who are just as qualified to talk about living memory?

  4. Fiona Green |

    Did you approach the health services to work with you or did they approach the gallery? And how is budgeting for something like this done between the two parties?

  5. Louise Thompson |

    Using objects in reminiscence work is very powerful. We are the keepers of these maginficiant collections and I feel, as an employee of Manchester Art Gallery and Manchester City Council, that we have a social and moral obligation to make these extraordinary objects (objects, artworks, documents) accessible to all. And that means finding ways to bring them out into the community to those who are harder to reach. This could be a real uphill struggle depending on the flexibility of your particular organisation. But it is a struggle that is worth pursuing.

    I think from your question you’re saying that you or others are actually not able to bring objects into the community (perhaps due to conservation restrictions or the nature of your collection) and so you’re questioning the value or impact of this work without those objects. Well, it’s a fair point. I’ve just spoken to my colleague about this and we both agree that you don’t *need* to have the object there in order to harness it’s potential to connect people to their lives. We’ve done sessions with reproductions, large scale prints, posters, audio, film, spoken word. But we have always started with and connect back to the object. Starting with and being inspired by a specific object can still take you down a route where you develop the most innovative and creative work. Yes, there is something very special about bringing these objects to people; people seeing them, feeling them, smelling them in the flesh but it doesn’t all fall down without the object. Care workers, social services and families do amazing work. Museums professionals are particularly wonderful though at enabling extraordinary encounters with the past through engagement. Creating conditions for a particular flavour of connection and wellbeing inspired by these objects. Whether they’re are physically in the building or not.

    If I’ve misread your question please reword it and post again. Thanks, I enjoyed pondering that one.

  6. Louise Thompson |

    It’s a bit of both. I’ve approached health services and charities and said, let’s work together. We’re both trying to achieve the same outcome. To increase, improve or enhance wellbeing in who they would most likely call service users and what we’d call participants/audiences.

    Sometimes health professionals have heard about the work we’ve been developing in health and wellbeing and have called or emailed us. It’s really a mixture. We’re a big gallery so I’m not sure if that would be everyone’s experience.
    But honestly most of the time I’ve met and spoken to people at conferences, events, seminars etc (even parties!) and have thought – I like you, I think you’d be a good person work with. And it’s gone from there. It’s so important to get along with your partner(s), it’s an equal relationship and no one holds the power. In my opinion partnership working is all about *the* person, that key worker in a mental health organisation who you work with, learn from, get along with, you communicate well with, you trust them, you’re able to be honest, open. And you’re both working towards the same goal. It’s great when it happens. I’m very lucky to say that I work and have worked with some wonderful colleagues.

    And I’ve been transparent about what budget from the first conversation and also about what the gallery could provide in kind and we’ve had conversations from there. Or they come to us and say, we’ve got a bit of budget and we’d really like to work with you. Again, it’s a mixture.

  7. Gillian Waters |

    ‏@CharleensBoot ·asks hi I’m new to mindfulness can you tell me if it can help de stress a busy girl?

  8. Fiona Green |

    I liked your comment to Caroline’s question and was wondering if you had any suggestions for taking objects out of an art gallery for reminiscence work as I cant obviously take out the paintings – how could I combat this? Thanks

  9. R. Murphy |

    I have a very busy career, and often find I have no time to relax; but I’ve read a lot about ‘mindfulness’, & am intrigued.
    What would you advise to someone who may not have time to attend mindfulness activities at galleries & the like?

  10. Louise Thompson |

    Hi Charleen, yes, people who practice mindfulness often report feeling de-stressed and notice an overall improvement in their mental health; mood is lifted, ability to respond to stress when it occurs improves, we develop a different relationship to our thoughts and we begin to develop news ways of approaching difficult emotions and situations. All good stuff, I’m sure you’d agree.

    It’s also a really great technique to help us slow down and take notice of what’s happening around us. In our mind, in our body and in our environment. Give us a little respite from our modern busyness. When we get over-stressed we are more vulnerable to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety. Any technique or tool (intros case mindfulness) that gives us a choice in emotional regulation is an incredibly powerful tool to have. When we feel stressed, our heart races, our mind is bombarded with thoughts – often self critical and negative – we are swept away in a current of cortisol and adrenaline. But being mindful gives you the ability to come out of that state of alarm/alertness and experience some much needed respite. Our emotional systems (and brains!) experience this as respite.

    There have been clinical studies carried out by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre at Oxford Uni that have demonstrated the mindfulness has been proven to lower the risk or recurrent episodes in depression by over half and have had similar results for anxiety as well.

    The intention in mindfulness though is not get ‘de-stressed’, although this is a welcome by-product of the practice. But rather the intention is to become more aware of what’s happening in the present moment. And to try and not judge our experience, others or (most importantly) ourselves too harshly. Easier said that done, I know. But it is a practice so keep practicing.

    I hope you feel the benefit of it. Get in touch if you have any other questions @Louise_Tea_

  11. Louise Thompson |

    Hi Fiona, why can’t you take paintings out? We have a brilliant programme that loans artworks to schools across Manchester. http://manchesterartgallery.org/learn/schools-and-colleges/resources-2/
    Inspired by my colleagues I’m currently developing work that will bring paintings into hospitals and community centres. It won’t happen over night but it starts somewhere.

    I’m sure there may be some works in your collection that your Conservation team/Curators would be at least open to conversations about lending out? Maybe not your most valued work or the heaviest one! But a small painting? Works on paper? A beautiful print?

  12. Louise Thompson |

    It’s very difficult with the demands of the modern world to make time to relax. And I say make time, because we don’t *find* time to relax, we must make time. So the first thing I would say is that I hope things settle down a least a little for you and you’re able to make time to relax.

    The beauty of mindfulness is that it can be practiced anywhere. You don’t have to go to centres and art galleries to be mindful. Although if you live in Manchester can I just take this opportunity to officially invite you to come to Manchester Art Gallery and take part in our mindfulness-based sessions for the public,
    they’re great, you’d be very welcome and they’re not long which you’ll be pleased to hear!

    Anyway, you don’t *have* to go anywhere special, wear anything special, be with anyone special etc to do this. The beauty of mindfulness is that you can do it anywhere. Informally. Engage your senses, notice the present. Notice what’s happening around you. What can you see?What colours/lines/textures/shadows do you notice? What sounds can you hear? Notice sound, when you’re mind drifts aways to other things …remember that’s ok, that’s what our minds do.. notice the thought but gently escort your attention back to the sounds you can hear. Or the shapes you can see. Or the flavours you can taste.
    Do this. Do this every time you’re in a queue. Do it every time you’re on public transport. Do it every time you walk from one meeting room to another. Incorporate this into what you’re already doing in your everyday life and I think you will be surprised by how much of a difference theses small changes can make. And you never know., you may find yourself making more time for yourself to relax. I hope so anyway.

    Ps. Come to Manchester Art Gallery.

  13. Dr Armen |

    Thanks for sharing Louis Thompson! This is a great project for Manchester art gallery.

    1. Rachel Wade |

      Thank you for your comment Dr Armen, we’re pleased you enjoyed reading our Q&A.

      Best wishes,

      Rachel Wade
      York Museums Trust

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