Art and Wellness: Community Partnerships

The current issue of Muse includes an article by Shirley Madill focusing on the relationship of “Art and Wellness.” Madill’s piece focuses on the role of museums and art galleries in communities, the connection of arts and health, and the wellness benefits associated with public engagement in the arts.

She argues that “Investment in the arts produces important social benefits that have a strong positive impact on both individual and community health.”  Madill includes examples of numerous Canadian initiatives that highlight the collaborative partnerships between health organizations and art institutions.

For example, The Art for Healing Foundation aims to bring art into hospitals and other care facilities as a means of creating inspiring, peaceful, and beautiful environments for patients and healthcare workers.  Since 2002 the Foundation has been responsible for installing over 8000 works of art in institution across Canada.

The integration of artwork into hospital settings can also be seen at the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg and their decision to to open the Buhler Gallery in 2007.  Located within the Hospital the Buhler Gallery has seen over 75,000 people visit the space with more than a third of the visitors being hospital patients. The Gallery has successfully created a welcoming reflective space for visitors and highlights the intersection of art and healing. 

In addition to hospital based art programs, Madill also highlights the benefits of programming created by community galleries that is geared toward people dealing with health issues.  The Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, where Madill works, partnered with the local Alzheimer Society to create a “Gather in the Gallery” program.  The programming focuses on engaging Alzheimer patients and their caregivers within the gallery space.  Current in it’s fourth year this program has been seen as a success by the gallery, Alzheimer Society and its participants.

Overall Madill’s work reminded me a lot of the Journey Women exhibit I was able to be part of in 2014 that focused on using art based healing to create ‘body maps’ which reflected personal healing experiences.  The article also made me think about the potential within in many museums and galleries to collaborate with health based organizations.  There are tremendous opportunities for engagement, public outreach, and the creation of new programming that is beneficial to both communities and galleries.

If you’re interested in the intersection of art and health I recommend checking out the September/October 2014 issue of Muse as it contains Madill’s excellent piece and others focusing on the role of museums and galleries in health.  

Commodifying Archives

The July/August issue of Muse contains an article by Toni Lin on “The Role of Commodification in Archival Institutions.”  Lin does an excellent job of outlining the perceived pros and cons of commidification and the impact it can have on public access, archival funding, and preservation.

The article concludes that some level of commodification may be necessary for many institutions and can serve as a way to bolster shrinking revenues. Research services, reproduction of archival materials and legal sale of deaccessioned materials can be viable funding supplementation options.

Lin notes that there must be an balance been the need to provide free open access to archives and charging for research or reproduction fees.  She suggests that archival institutions should benefit financially from doing research instead of the money going private researchers.  This isn’t a bad idea — but for many archives adding in-depth research services simply isn’t possible.  Staffing constraints, particularly in smaller institutions, often make offering full research services impossible. 

Digital reproduction and user fees are another way in which archives can recoup or raise funding.  Many institutions have opted to allow users to obtain personal use or research copies of materials free of charge.  This is then balanced by charging for high resolution images, commercial uses, and publication quality prints. At times navigating copyright and privacy legislation can make this reproduction and user fee service more challenging.  And these fees often don’t make a huge amount of money but they do help offset costs.

Overall, Lin’s piece highlights the changing financial landscape facing archives and other heritage organizations.  It is becoming increasingly necessary for organizations to look to new funding sources and ideas.  Commodification and using collections to raise funds isn’t a new idea, but it is one that might gain more prominence as budgets continue to shrink. 

First Nations and Inuit Collaboration In Museums

As my recent post on “Community Engagement in Commemoration” mentioned I’ve been thinking a lot about community involvement in the practices of museums and heritage sites.  The recent issue of Muse contains a short piece, “Redefining First Nations and Inuit Involvement in Exhibit Planning,” by Jameson C. Brant that focuses on similar questions of engagement.

Brant’s writing focuses on This Is Our Story: First Nations and Inuit in the 21st Century a new permanent exhibition at Les Musées De La Civilization in Quebec City.  Brant maintains that the success of This is Our Story comes from the Museum’s practice of consultation and inclusion of First Nation and Inuit people in the exhibit process. She notes, “the messages in this exhibition are fresh and inspiring because they are raw.  The content breaks through the stereotypical barriers that have in the past separated museums from First Peoples.”

The exhibition content was developed over a two year period and saw the museum working with the 11 Aboriginal nations of Quebec.  Consultation meetings were held with representatives from each First Nation and Inuit community as well as various Indigenous organizations. The result was an exhibit that shares the world view of contemporary Aboriginal people.  It showcases every day objects, artwork by Aboriginal artists, and integrates the sounds and stories of communities through audio visual components.

This Is Our Story highlights the importance of approaching exhibits and community collaboration with respect, cultural sensitivity, and patience.  As Brant notes the exhibition planners “have overcome many of the challenges faced by museums today…creating an educational experience that satisfies the demands of varying audiences.  These not only include families, school grounds, tourists as well as the museum’s frequent visitors, but also the First Nations and Inuit people themselves.”

Creating an exhibit that reflects the desire of the community and provides serves the broader community is a huge task and a tremendous feat when done successfully.  It’s great to see museums becoming more aware of the importance of building relations and involving community in all stages of exhibit development.

Visitor Research and Canadian Museums

The March/April issue of Muse included the article “A Case For Visitor Research in Canadian Art Museums” by Katherine Dennis.  The piece looked at the current state of visitor research and the need to articulate the public value of museums to stakeholders and community members. 

There are no national standards for visitors research and there tends to be little consistency between institutional practices.  Many visitor research projects are done as a one off and “most museums seldom go beyond measuring attendance and membership numbers.  Some use these figures as a proxy for quality — assuming more is better….these relatively simple metrics convey little about the audience’s experience or the museum’s value to an individual or the community.”

Visitor stats aren’t a bad thing.  They tend to be the easiest to generate and do tell you something about your museum.  Additionally board members and other stakeholders often like to know about visitor numbers and correlate increased visitors with success.  However, the article is right in it’s assertion that stats relating to the number of visitors can’t tell you about experience or effectiveness of programming.

Dennis argues that museums need to develop systematic research programs which can generate data to be used in program development, funding applications, and to highlight the importance and relevancy of museum programming.  But a lot of organizations are lacking to tools and knowledge required to develop metrics and effective visitor research programs.  Dennis is currently working with the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies to develop a comprehensive visitor research program.  It will be interesting to see the results of this initiative and if other institutions can use it as a model. 

Hidden No Longer: Keeping Indigenous Heritage Alive

If you’re a member of the Canadian Museums Association you should soon be receiving the November/December issue of Muse.  This month‘s cover article, “Hidden No Longer: Keeping Indigenous Heritage Alive” is written by yours truly.

The article focuses on the role heritage museums have played in presenting indigenous culture and history to the general public.  It highlights the ‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum, the Woodland Cultural Centre, and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre as examples of institutions which have strove to accurately and inclusively present and display Indigenous culture.