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Visiting art museums ‘good for your wellbeing’

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The United Kingdom has for many years had ‘Arts on Prescription’, where trips to art galleries and museums are prescribed as part of a health care plan for patients. This is based on a growing base of evidence around the mental health benefits of such activities. Australian researchers have found that the depression and stress levels of people living with dementia are reduced through visits to art museums. The National Gallery of Australia has been running an art programme for people with dementia since 2007 and the Museum of Modern Art in New York since 2006.  


Museums help combat one of the largest looming epidemics in our modern world – loneliness. As a third space, neither home or work, we provide a safe place where people can encounter and interact with others through a shared experience. It’s not unusual to find strangers sharing stories with each other or exchanging observations about things they discover on display. Certainly it’s a very common occurrence for visitors to want to talk to our Customer Service team or other staff about what they’ve just experienced. Telling us about their family connection to the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake or the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, sharing that it is their tūpuna on a video in Kuru Taonga: Voices of Kahungunu, or their memories of working at or visiting Marineland. They tell us about clothing they own that Minh Ta designed or that they have an object at home very similar to one on display in Silver: heirlooms from the collection. Others might want to talk about something they learnt from our exhibitions (past or present), for instance the role freezing works played in creating vibrant healthy communities. Whatever our visitors want to share, we enjoy these interactions and often learn things we didn’t know and make new connections and networks. These seemingly small interactions play an important mental health role – providing connection and interaction for people around a meaningful experience or nostalgia journey.


Yesterday we opened our most recent exhibition Eye Spy: Curious Stories. A disparate range of objects from the collection are looked at through the eyes of storytelling and ornamental embellishment. We’ve tried something a little different with this exhibition, providing an opportunity to engage through multiple senses - sight, touch, sound and smell. As part of this exhibition there’s a giant collaborative ‘ei (think lei) which our visitors can contribute to and, over time, fill a wall in the gallery with this fun project. Designed to appeal to adults and younger audiences alike we hope you’ll come and be curious and inspired by the objects, questions and stories you find within this display.


Whatever you come to do or see at the museum, please keep sharing your stories, reactions and memories with us and each other. 


Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 23 September 2023 and written by Laura Vodanovich, Director at MTG Hawke’s Bay.


13 October 2023

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