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Wellness and Museums

November 7, 2011

With a quadrupling of childhood obesity in the last 40 years, food and wellness seem to be all over the museum world of late.

  • A recent blog post at the Center for the Future of Museums by David Curry reports on last month’s Feeding the Spirit: Museums, Food and Community held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   The meeting was organized through a collaboration of institutions ranging from the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden to the Association of Children’s Museums.  Curry notes that his “. . . key observation (which I am still reflecting on) is about how rich the collaborative networks were that underpinned all these projects.”
  • The current issue of Museums & Social Issues addresses Pursuing Wellness.  The volume draws on museums focused in science, art, health care, agriculture, and outreach projects such as the Field Museum’s Division of Environment, Culture and Conservation.
  • The Institute of Museums and Library Services’s  Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens initiative dovetails with the program sponsored by First Lady Michelle Obama.  The Let’s Move’s October 2011 newsletter lists nearly 500 institutions that launched activities around the initiative. Twenty-five percent of those  institutions are Children or Youth Museums.
  • The Dallas Crow Collection now hosts a Yoga for Youth activity to “provide family programming using original art, stories, music, and sensory integrated activities to align healthy Minds, Bodies, Hearts through Art.”
  • The Museums Association in the UK calls for the integration of museum visits into the measures of “wellbeing” from the Office of National Statistics.

The wellbeing theme flows directly from the American Association of Museum‘s 2002 publication Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums.   In that volume Ellen Hirzy (2002:9) considers civic engagement to mean “ . . . when the museum and community intersect – in a subtle and overt way, over time, and as an accepted and natural way of doing business.”  She also argues (2002:16) that “Working together or diversifying audiences is not enough. What is needed are reciprocal, co-created relationships that connect the assets and purposes of organizations.”

A key part in this discussion harkens back to Robert Janes’ call for museums to be relevant in the lives of the public they serve.  I am struck that if that relevance does not draw on a museum’s mission and collections then the relationship is unsustainable and will simply become another piece of baggage to weigh the institution down.  A quick scan of the October 2011 Newsletter of the Let’s Move initiative shows how this relevance occurs at the many reporting institutions.

At the C.H. Nash Museum, the visiting public was way ahead of our own work in this area.  We were quite surprised, or at least I was, that 60% of the respondents to a spring of 2011 visitor survey asked that we expand our programming to include more of our 100 acre wooded natural environment.  We have a good response to our calls for volunteers to help with our herb garden, arboretum, sweetgrass bed, and  as we go about launching the next phase of the Traditional Medicinal Plant Sanctuary along our nature trail.  After our volunteer activities on November 19th, Graduate Assistants Megan Keener and Mallory Bader will host a tea tasting made from plants grown in our herb garden, along with snacks inspired by the traditional foods of the Chickasaw Nation.

How can your institution promote a healthy lifestyle for visitors?

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