For the past four years we have been developing mindfulness across our learning programmes and with different audiences, we have explored just how this valuable skill can be employed in the appreciation of art. In this way, we have helped people to engage more fully with our permanent collection as well as with our special exhibitions. In encountering familiar works as well as art that is entirely new to them, they have been able to reflect upon the importance of their own mental health.
The people we work with are invited to learn, develop and practise it within our gallery walls. Our learners includes adult mental health service users, primary school children, older people, newly qualified teachers and the long-term unemployed. Through our projects and public workshops, we have been helping people to appreciate that mindfulness is both life-long and life-wide. But the most important outcome is that they are encouraged to develop it independently in their everyday lives.
A person may choose to be mindful at home, in their garden or at work and many have told us of the joy that the practice can bring in such settings. Additionally, people have reported on the usefulness of bringing mindful awareness to their workplaces as well as on the value of practising it on a busy tram!
And so the process begins in the gallery but it does not end there; the practice of letting thoughts come and go while looking at a painting, without getting caught up or carried away by them, can be transferred to real life situations.
Adults and communities
Our work with mental health service users saw mindfulness provide a much needed tool they when they were coping with difficult emotions and thoughts. It seems to give people something to draw upon whenever they feel overwhelmed by the events of their day. A resource for recovery on the journey back to good mental health.
In our work with public sector workers, we have seen that mindfulness can help people respond to the challenging changes they face and over which they feel that they have little control.
Our drop-in lunchtime sessions have provided city-workers with important nourishment as well as respite from the noise and over-stimulation of the modern world. This gives them a moment away from the many pressures of their working environments. Mindfulness can be used as a preventative measure, protecting and strengthening people’s mental health by helping them learn skills to manage stress better and thereby lowering the risk of developing a mental health problem.
Similarly our work with schools has shown that mindfulness can help children to build up emotional resilience and self-worth. Thus empowered, they are more inclined to accept and value themselves for being just the way they are. With a quarter of a million children accessing mental health services in England today, we believe mindfulness is a necessary skill for children and young people today to learn in order to flourish and thrive as adults.
Older people have told us that mindfulness has helped them to see life in a new way and how they have become more aware of the curious, the strange and the beautiful. They are therefore enriched by the realisation that irrespective of age, there is still so much left to see and appreciate in the world. And they are able to do this with a renewed sense of wonder.
Having integrated mindfulness across our learning strands and with a mindfulness-based public health and wellbeing programme that is accessible to everyone, we would like to share our learning and experience with other museums and galleries. As The Mindful Museum we will raise awareness of the clinical evidence behind the practice and its impact on health, creativity and learning. In our studios, we will share practical ways for other museum and gallery professionals to integrate mindfulness into their programmes through a series of Continued Professional Development sessions. And, of course, we look forward to learning from others so that we can continue to develop our knowledge and improve our understanding in this field.
A mindful city is a healthy, resilient city
Most importantly, we will continue to support people to learn this wellbeing skill so that they can effect real and long-lasting change in their own health and wellbeing. In other words, as The Mindful Museum, we will continue to invite the people of Manchester to be mindful, one painting at a time.