On October 2Contemplative Vibes, a webinar hosted by Louvre Abu Dhabi delved into how exposure to art spaces can benefit mental, social and physical health and wellbeing, and how museums can offer therapeutic opportunities to the public.
According to Maral Jule Bedoyan, education and learning resources manager at Louvre Abu Dhabi, and moderator at the event, these topics are all the more relevant in recent times, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Covid-19 has forced us all to pause, work from home, focus on ourselves. It has also led to a lot of anxiety for a lot of people, and brought a lot to unpack and deal with,” she says.
So, how exactly can art be used to alleviate stress and anxiety? The benefits are threefold – mental, social, and physical.
“Our basic interaction with art is fascinating; simply interacting with an object can trigger an emotion – be it positive or negative. It can take us back to a moment in time, a memory and it is good for us because we can tap into why we are feeling what we are feeling and question this emotion. These human experiences are what trigger feelings of wellbeing.”
Helen Jury, co-editor of Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries: Reframing Practice, and a panellist at the webinar added that these experiences we have with art is, therefore, unique to us. "There's something about what we bring as a person in that particular moment in our interaction with an object. We bring the object to life, we bring something to it which could be something different at a different point, depending on our different experiences. In a therapeutic way, it allows us to scroll our sense of self. This has played out since time immemorial."
Then there is the social aspect. "When you go to art spaces, you are among other people but you are sharing the same experience. There is a feeling of community,” says Bedoyan.
The physical aspect lies in the way art spaces are designed, with the interiors created to invoke feelings of peace and calm. Louvre Abu Dhabi, for example, features aesthetic elements that are calming, from the water views outside to the intricate dome that allows sunlight to filter through.
Stephen Legari, art therapy lead programme officer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and registered art therapist, added that the role of these physical spaces are changing in light of the pandemic. "Traditionally, the idea of a museum was about collecting and preserving but now it is about living. Especially during these times when we are dealing with so much anxiety."
“Another important physical aspect is the creative process of making art itself," says Bedoyan. "You are lost in time and space, during which your mind is calm. What tends to happen is that you remember the experience and the process of creating art and not the outcome. As long as you are getting your mind and body working at the same time, that is good progress.”
Louvre Abu Dhabi has developed offerings to support physical and mental wellbeing – from launching kayaking around the museum to curating an Anghami Contemplative Vibes playlist, inspired by the museum's collection that audiences can listen to.
The education team is also working with the Ministry of Community Development to engage virtually with members of senior Emirati groups through online sessions on contemplation and storytelling, while plans for Yoga under the Dome sessions are currently in the pipeline.
To anyone who may be having a hard time, be it physically or mentally, Bedoyan recommends getting creative. “Creativity doesn’t have to be restricted to art. It can be anything that you enjoy doing and requires you to think – be it cooking, gardening or organising.”