Art Shed: Museums as medicine

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

by Finn White, Engagement Officer – Communities

Art Shed is an arts course aimed at people with low level mental health issues (e.g. depression or anxiety) that has been boosting wellbeing since February 2016. It is a part of a nationwide movement toward social prescribing: where patients are linked with non-medical sources of support within the community.

Who attends and what do we do?

Person unveiling their two-tone lino print image of a face. print has just been pressed on a traditional black metal contraption.Participant ages range from young adults to retired people. Attendance and ‘membership’ of the group is very fluid, reflecting the flexible structure of the sessions and the nature of participants’ conditions.

The group meets on Mondays, when M Shed is closed to the public, and many participants feel a sense of privilege at being given a private viewing of the exhibitions.

The sessions are loosely structured to create a relaxed environment and allow individuals to pursue their own artistic interests. Participants can engage with a new technique each week from lino printing to paper folding.

A variety of materials are on offer including our wonderful Victorian printing press. We link the sessions to our collections, for example a tin can crafting activity was recently inspired by both Warrior Treasures at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and industrial machinery in L Shed stores.

What impact does Art Shed have?

Evaluation by psychology students at UWE showed that participants’ mood had increased during the workshops and participants feel more positive and more energetic. This positive effect seemed to predict longer-term increases in overall well-being, suggesting that attending may have a more sustained impact.

What do the participants say?

Close up of a person drawing a print of a mythical creature. Their hand and the drawing is in view, accompanied by sketchbooks and coloured artist pencils.You feel kind of connected to the centre of Bristol. You know you’ve got a connection whereas it can feel very isolated with depression. You’re in the real world where everything is going on.’

 ‘Even when I’m feeling low I still want to get here and to do these things cos I know it’s going to help me. And it does perk me up at the end of the day.’

‘I haven’t done any of this since school and suddenly I realised that I could create something that actually was quite satisfying.’ 

 ‘M Shed is a lovely atmosphere… it’s like full of culture, full of inspiration in there.’

‘It’s been nice to be in a supportive space, meeting like-minded people in a creative setting.’ 

Why is this happening in a museum?

Our collections and studios provide a uniquely inspiring space for the group, and the ideas and energy of the participants help make M Shed a place of creativity, discussion and wellbeing.

I feel part of something that I normally wouldn’t have a connection with. I actually feel I’ve got a connection with the building and it’s like a privilege pass kind of thing.

Participants talk glowingly of specific exhibitions and of the artworks they have seen, often saying how collections have directly inspired the work they had produced as part of the programme.

[The exhibition] set the seed of producing something for me, not necessarily personal experience, it was from looking at something.

What happens next?

We are currently looking to expand our social prescribing offer at our other museum sites in Bristol. To find out more please contact us at museum.community@bristol.gov.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.