Books | The healing power of art - Museums Association

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Books | The healing power of art

The increasing importance of art therapy in museums finally gets the serious treatment it deserves
Books Health And Wellbeing
Wendy Gallagher
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Museums have a part to play to improve the benefits of art therapy

It seems like forever that I’ve waited for this book. Publishing Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries: Reframing Practice (edited by Ali Coles and Helen Jury, Hachette, £26.99) now has never been so timely and makes it all the more powerful. It is the first book of its kind exploring the dynamics and impacts of the growing number of partnerships between art therapists and museum professionals in the context of museum and gallery spaces. 

I began my career in museums and galleries in 2004, just after completing an art therapy foundation course at Trafford College. I recall asking my then head of learning and engagement at the Whitworth gallery if it would be possible to introduce the practice of art therapy into our museum programmes. Although my request was met with a degree of interest, we had only just begun our arts and health work in earnest. We had a lot to learn. Time was needed to develop sustainable health and social care partnerships, and to increase our respect for each other’s professional knowledge and skillset. 

ISBN: 9781785924118, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
The full treatment

Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries, edited by Ali Coles and Helen Jury, is presented in three parts providing readers with context, practical examples of art therapists working with museums and galleries and wider perspectives through a series of thoughtful and insightful essays.

Careful deliberation of professional boundaries, theoretical frameworks and ethical considerations is essential in order to shape and move this work forward. This book thoughtfully examines these issues. It offers art therapists, museum and gallery professionals, and others working in this field, new ways of collectively relating to some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. Examples of a broad range of partnership models, across different countries and participant groups, provide readers with some of the skills, knowledge and capacity required to expand art therapy practice and cultivate the therapeutic potential of museums.

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The introduction by Coles and Jury clearly states their belief that museums add something to the therapeutic process, while also extending thinking around the scope of art therapy. 

Through reading the essays you frequently appreciate the importance of the absence of the clinical environment for clients and/or participants and how it can present challenges for others.This book highlights ways in which art therapists are responding to museum and gallery spaces, objects and artworks and draws attention to the possibilities for future collaborations and research. Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries firmly establishes the museum as a therapeutic space and is a truly rich resource for art therapists and their practice.

The book emphasises the importance of cross-sector partnerships to give participants and museum staff the necessary specialised and professional expertise and support for delivering therapeutic sessions for those most at risk, while also ensuring a safe space for everyone involved. The editors don’t shy away from the challenges museums present to art therapists, their clients and general visitors. Discussions on the intentional omission of aspects of heritage – such as that relating to minority ethnic communities, the misappropriation of cultural artefacts and perceptions of museums as unwelcoming – are used to explore issues of diversity, care and neglect and abuse of power.

Community care

We are witnessing a sector-wide movement in culture, health and wellbeing and an increased demand on museums and galleries to actively question their social purpose and civic role. Many have reset their mission goals to align with the strategic health priorities of their communities to ensure they are more relevant to the people they serve. Mental-health conditions and problems are increasing worldwide, intensified by the pandemic. We need to understand how museums can support art therapists, art psychotherapists and other health and social-care professionals.

For those looking to advance this type of work, Art Therapy in Museums
and Galleries deserves your attention. It helps define a new area of museum and art therapy practice and gives discourse to this vital work.

Wendy Gallagher is the head of civic engagement and education at Manchester Museum, University of Manchester 

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