Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries
eBook - ePub

Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries

Reframing Practice

Ali Coles, Helen Jury

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eBook - ePub

Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries

Reframing Practice

Ali Coles, Helen Jury

Angaben zum Buch

Über dieses Buch

This is the first book to explore and evaluate the potential of museum and gallery spaces and partnerships for art therapy.

Showcasing approaches by well-known art therapists, the edited collection contains descriptions of, and reflections on, art therapy in museums and galleries around the globe. Case studies encompass a broad range of client groups, including people with dementia, refugees and clients recovering from substance abuse, exploring the therapeutic skills required to work in these settings. The collection also establishes the context for art therapy in museums and galleries through reviewing key literature and engaging with the latest research, to consider wider perspectives on how these spaces inform therapeutic practice. Offering a comprehensive look at ways in which these locations enable novel and creative therapeutic work, this is an essential book for art therapists, arts and health practitioners and museum professionals.

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The Context
Art Therapy in Museums
and Galleries
Evidence and Research
Sue Holttum


In this chapter, I describe work by art therapists in museums and galleries, draw out the contribution of the settings, and suggest ways forward for research. I am engaged in art therapy research as an applied psychologist at England’s Canterbury Christ Church University, and as part-time research officer for the British Association of Art Therapists. It would be difficult to do justice here to the full range of innovative work by art therapists in museums and galleries, so I focus on just a few projects from the past 20 years. My aim is to discuss work that art therapists are doing in museums and galleries with a range of participant groups and in different countries.
Art therapy in museums and galleries has been seen as one of a number of kinds of arts and health approaches, and was included in the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPGAHW) report (2017). This report suggested two main ways in which arts and health projects may produce benefits for their participants. First, the report suggested that the enriched environment of arts engagement may reverse harmful effects of deprivation and stress. The report drew on a biopsychosocial model and understandings of animal and human biology (e.g. Bygren 2013; Rasmuson et al. 1998). Environmental stresses can affect our genes, determining whether certain genes are switched on or off (Borghol et al. 2012). New knowledge has also indicated that the human brain continues to adapt and grow new brain cells throughout life (see Cozolino 2018 for an overview), and one study has reported beneficial brain changes in response to art classes for older people in a museum (Bolwerk et al. 2014). If we draw on Bygren (2013), enrichment may be provided not only through cultural venues and their exhibits, but also through the opportunities afforded for social connection, interaction, creativity and play during participation.
The second proposed therapeutic mechanism in the APPGAHW (2017) report was the way that absorption in arts activities may reduce stress hormones through calming, and there is some evidence to support this in relation to drumming (Fancourt et al. 2016) and art therapy (Visnola et al. 2010). Considered alongside evidence that simply visiting museums and galleries and viewing artworks can be calming (Clow and Fredhoi 2006; Roberts, Camic and Springham 2011), it seems possible that a museum and gallery setting can add to any calming effect of arts activities themselves.
A variety of hypotheses have been put forward regarding the way in which art therapy in its own right may yield therapeutic benefits. The review by Gabel and Robb (2017) is particularly relevant in that it examined group art therapy, the form most often used in museums and galleries. Gabel and Robb (2017) reviewed 119 sources across art therapy teaching material, practice reports and empirical studies, and suggested five main mechanisms of action for group art therapy. Their reviewed literature incorporated clients across the lifespan and in different contexts (medical, psychiatric, wellbeing and rehabilitation). Their five suggested mechanisms were: symbolic expression (the use and sharing of symbols), relational aesthetics (communication and attachment through artworks), embodiment (expressing mental contents through art-related actions), pleasure and play (relaxation and mastery through interacting with and manipulating art materials), and ritual (special places such as the art studio and consistent boundaries and practice). The following section explores how a museum or gallery setting might contribute to these, and other, therapeutic aspects of art therapy practice.

Evidence on art therapy involving museums and galleries

People diagnosed with cancers

Deane, Fitch and Carman (2000) evaluated 16 sessions of art therapy for 21 people with cancer diagnoses in Canada. Participants received a tour of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and then made art in a studio with the art therapist. Deane et al. (2000) evaluated the programme using a questionnaire and audio-recorded telephone interviews. They reported that both the gallery tour and hearing stories about artworks and artists inspired participants to create their own expressive artwork. Deane et al. (2000) also reported that some participants found new ability to discuss their condition with friends and family, thus increasing their ongoing support, which became possible once participants had depicted unspoken emotional material and verbalised it with support from the art therapist.
While this may have been possible without inspiration from the gallery tour, some participants appeared to find learning about the artists and gallery artworks helpful in enabling them to be creative in their own use of art for expression and self-exploration. Many enjoyed learning about art and artists, and some continued to visit art galleries or engaged further in other arts such as theatre.

Young people

Some art therapy projects in museums and galleries have involved young people. Linesch (2004) piloted art therapy in the USA’s Museum of Tolerance, which houses exhibits concerning the Holocaust. In a young people’s five-day summer camp, where the focus was learning about tolerance, participants toured the museum with a guide and made art in a group with an art therapist in response to the exhibits. At the end of the week they exhibited their artwork. Although Linesch (2004) did not conduct a formal evaluation, she suggested that art therapy facilitated an ‘experience of museum viewing that transitions the participant from passive viewer to self-expressive artist and potential exhibitor’ (p.57). This suggests that basing art therapy in a museum or gallery might bolster the potential for identity transformation of art therapy participants through an artist status (Thompson 2009; Wood 1997).
Also in the USA, Treadon, Rosal and Thompson Wylder (2006) piloted group art therapy for seven secondary school children with behavioural and emotional problems. Numerous studies have implicated environmental stress in the development of such problems (e.g. McLaughlin 2016; Sandler et al. 2015). The children worked partly at school and partly in an art museum. Treadon et al. (2006) did not report outcomes formally, but suggested that participants developed new interests in art and gained confidence in school art classes. The children were absorbed in the activities and surprised their teachers by their ‘lack of resistance or negative behaviours’ (Treadon et al. 2006, p.299). They were able to connect with the artworks and produce their own expressive art with technical support from the art therapists.

Family carers of people with severe mental health diagnoses

In the UK, Shaer et al. (2008) aimed to enable mental health service users and carers (in separate groups) to create podcasts about their experiences, using artworks in London’s Tate Britain gallery to stimulate discussion followed by the opportunity to make art. Shaer et al. (2008, p.31) stated, ‘Participants greatly increased their understanding and engagement of both gallery paintings and their own images through a relationship negotiated via shared viewing.’ As with Linesch (2004) and Deane et al. (2000), the art therapist here contained the participants’ emotional reactions to difficult themes when viewing exhibits and making art.
Building on Shaer et al. (2008), Roberts et al. (2011) evaluated a two-session group art-viewing and art-making programme for eight family carers of people with severe mental health problems, again in Tate Britain. Participants appreciated the venue as providing a sense of privilege and as a safe space. In one participant’s words, it was ‘like being somewhere very grand or something…and just for you’ (Roberts et al. 2011, p.154). Interest in art increased, and viewing a tranquil seascape reminded some participants of their capacity for coping by being outdoors or by the sea, for relaxation.

Mental health staff

Huet (2011) also built on Shaer et al. (2008), again employing art-viewing and art-making in Tate Britain. Huet (2011, p.3) referred to her one-off session as piloting ‘art therapy-based organisational consultancy’ for staff who cared for residents of a forensic learning disabilities unit. The curator told the artist’s story, inviting a human connection to art and artist, and Huet (2011) suggested that this facilitated participants’ subsequent artworks that depicted powerful work-stress themes. Two of the viewed artworks portrayed people without homes, and among the themes Huet (2011) identified through using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006), the pictures prompted staff to voice their feelings about their clients being seen as outsiders and about themselves being marginalised due to their work.

Older people

Salom (2011) piloted museum-based art therapy in Colombia for ten older people resident in a care home, which involved a visit to the Archaeological Museum in Bogotá. The aim was to allow them to connect to their past through the Archaeological Museum and its exhibits, and to open up to new experiences. Salom (2011) proposed therapeutic roles for museums, for example ‘museum as group’ (p.83) due to containing objects that signify a range of human experience. Thus, participants can have their own experiences validated by museum objects as they can do by other therapy group members, a therapeutic factor that Yalom (1995) termed universality (Salom 2011).
Many publications have reported evaluations of arts and health projects in different countries with older people in museums and art galleries, and I mention these in passing because they tend to involve artists, but not art therapists (e.g. Age and Opportunity 2012; Flatt et al. 2015; Harper and Hamblin 2010; McGuigan, Leggett and Horsburgh 2015). The aim of many of these projects is to improve the social inclusion and general wellbeing of older people, often in the context of dementia and with an emphasis on stimulation and enjoyment rather than processing difficult feelings or psychological issues. They use the museum or art gallery to assist in this aim, and benefits may accrue partly through the enriched environment discussed in the APPGAHW (2017) report. As the study by Bolwerk et al. (2014) suggested, art-based activities in a museum or gallery may lead to positive brain changes for older people. However, as has been illustrated already, art therapists often work with the expression of difficult feelings and thoughts.

Adults with severe mental health difficulties

In a UK study, Colbert et al. (2013) interviewed seven participants with psychosis-related diagnoses after a four-session programme of art-viewing and art-making, at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. Consistent with Linesch (2004), Colbert et al. (2013, p.255) suggested that there was ‘the emergence of a sense of personhood over patienthood or professionalism’ in that both mental health professionals and service users began to see themselves and each other as part of the ‘socially valued community of gallery-goers and art-makers’. For one mental health service user, seeing strong emotion in a painting (Samson and Delilah by Anthony Van Dyck) contributed to his sense of strong emotion becoming seen as normal rather than being a sign of illness. This seems to echo Salom’s (2011) description of museum objects as representing human life and providing a sense of universality (Yalom 1995).
Coles and Harrison (2018) describe an 18-session art therapy programme in two museums in Gloucester, England. Seven of their ten participants with severe mental health difficulties completed the programme. Their mixed-methods systematic case study included three short validated measures: the University College London (UCL) Museum Wellbeing Measure for young adults (Thomson and Chatterjee 2013), the Psychological Outcome Profiles (PSYCHLOPS, Ashworth et al. 2005), which allows service users to set their own therapy goals and rate their progress on these, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg 1989). Five of the seven participants self-reported as improved on PSYCHLOPS. Two who rated themselves as slightly worse had experienced difficult life circumstances during the programme, and this finding highlights the value of gathering additional contextual data. The mean change was positive, with a large effect size, indicating clinically as well as statistically significant change. Self-rated changes on the self-esteem scale were smaller but consistent with PSYCHLOPS. Scores on the UCL Museum Wellbeing Measure after each session suggested positive feelings.
Coles and Harrison (2018) outline the possible contribution of the museum settings and exhibits, which their qualitative data seemed to support. First, participants could make emotional connections with exhibits and express these emotions in their own artworks, which in turn seemed to assist self-understanding. Second, exploring boxes of museum objects or viewing exhibits ...


  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Contents
  4. About the Front Cover Image
  5. Foreword
  6. Introduction
  7. Part I: The Context
  8. Part 2: Art Therapists Working with Museums and Galleries
  9. Part 3: Wider Perspectives
  10. Biographies
  11. Subject Index
  12. Author Index
  13. Colour Plates
  14. Join Our Mailing List
  15. Acknowledgements
  16. Copyright
  17. Of Related Interest
Zitierstile für Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries

APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2020). Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries ([edition unavailable]). Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2020) 2020. Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries. [Edition unavailable]. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2020) Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries. [edition unavailable]. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries. [edition unavailable]. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2020. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.