It’s been a tough couple of years and everyone is finding ways to escape. Pandemic baking. Learning new skills from a language to a musical instrument. #TheGreatResignation. As cultural institutions navigate subsequent lockdowns of varying degrees, what hasn’t changed is the importance of arts and culture as an outlet and conduit for personal enrichment. In fact, it’s more vital than ever.
UK National Trust Co-founder Octavia Hill put it best: “We all want quiet. We all want beauty … We all need space. Unless we have it, we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”
We’ve seen this evident in our research. We track visitor motivations for engaging with culture at cultural institutions around the world and the trend over the last year has been visitors wanting more, deeper outcomes. Consistently, visitors report that they are seeking more from any one visit because they have been without; they want quality time and fun, intellectual stimulation, emotional connection and escape and recharge. People want a visit to tick as many boxes as possible.
On top of this, we’ve seen a more formal trend of social prescribing in some regions. When healthcare professionals refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services, taking a holistic view to health.
And there are countless examples out there of cultural institutions highlighting and maximizing the wellbeing benefits of engaging.
Kew Gardens welcomes visitors to practice yoga in the unique space of their Temperate House and take in the art of forest bathing (a trend that began in Japan in the 1980s known as Shinrin-yoku). Forestry England even created a how-to guide.
The Rubin Museum provides a dedicated ‘care package’ to combat isolation and the uncertainty cultivated through a Buddhist’s lens. Some organizations even specifically offer social prescribing.The Wildlife & Wetlands Trust (WTT) in the UK has created ‘blue prescriptions’ to bridge people’s connection with nature and improve their wellbeing. Providing a sense of escape from everyday stresses and anxieties, activities for the program include birdwatching, a canoe safari, estuary walk and picnic.
Manchester Art Gallery has been incorporating mindfulness into its programs and sees it as a vital skill to appreciate art. It is working with mental health service users to chart paths through mindfulness to aid in ways to deal with difficult emotions and thoughts in challenging times. The museum hosts drop-in lunchtime sessions to provide city-workers with respite from the noise and chaos of the city.
The UK’s Natural History Museum initiated the Urban Nature Project, which converts its five-acre location in the heart of London into a space to build connection to nature and learn about biodiversity. It is also looking to improve paths with step-free routes across the site.
This past spring Little Island opened in New York, providing green space by repurposing a formerly unused pier. The space is accessible through multiple modes of transit, as well as making all paths ADA accessible with handrails and landings for resting.
When thinking about open space and nature, it’s an opportune time to acknowledge the land your organization occupies. Recognizing the indigenous communities goes back to honoring Mother Earth. The Native Governance Center provides a helpful guide to crafting a land acknowledgement, and New York University created a specific guide for cultural institutions. Some good examples of land acknowledgements include the Field Museum in Chicago and the Sydney Opera House.
More recent links for benefits for green spaces and wellbeing: