How Museums Make us Happy: Talking Heritage with our Health and Well-Being Coordinator

In our ‘Talking Heritage’ series, we chat with Canterbury Museums and Galleries staff about what they get up to behind the scenes to deliver our brilliant museums service. The series aims to serve as a useful resource for those interested in heritage work as well as hopefully demystifying what us ‘museum folk’ actually do!

This time we catch up with our Health and Well-Being Coordinator, Frances Chiverton, about her path into heritage work and how museums really can make us happy.

So what’s your job role? 

I’m the Health and Well-Being Coordinator at Canterbury Museums and Galleries.

What’s your fave heritage site you’ve visited recently? 

I recently went to Barcelona and one place that sticks in my mind was Antoni Gaudi’s, Palau Güell, one of his first commissions. I loved the fact that you can stumble across this amazing feat of architecture as you stroll along Las Ramblas – a hidden gem amongst the hustle and bustle. 

What does a regular day in the office look like? 

There isn’t really a ‘regular’ day as they can be so varied, which is something that I love! Typically, I could be delivering a Mindfulness Tour, carrying out research into the impact of different art forms or helping to design a Health and Wellbeing project.

What do you enjoy most about being a Health and Well-Being Coordinator? 

I really thrive on seeing people benefit from engaging with, and being inspired by, the museum’s Collection. I love working with so many diverse audiences from preschoolers, foreign students, Visually Impaired, socially isolated and dementia sufferers to family groups and, of course, our lovely staff. Being the Health and Well-Being Coordinator does wonders for my own health and well-being!

How did you get into museum work? 

As a qualified teacher and headteacher, I witnessed first-hand the therapeutic and inspirational effects that Museums have on people, particularly children. So, whilst studying a BA in History and Philosophy of Art, followed by an MA in Curating, I was determined to put my passion for Education and Art work together. I volunteered at The Dulwich Picture Gallery, giving art educational tours to young children. I also, as part of my degree, completed a 4-month internship in Turner Contemporary’s Learning Department where I learned more about engaging audiences with artworks. My advice to anyone seeking to get into museum work would be to find a museum or gallery that you love or are inspired by and enquire if they have any volunteering or internship opportunities available.

Frances supporting a Music in Museums workshop.

So health and well-being is a super hot topic in the cultural heritage sector right now, but what is it that makes museums such great tools for supporting community well-being?

Museums really do have so much to offer visitors and community groups: beautiful historic buildings offering a place where people can reflect on culture and unwind, to learn and socialse, to meet, be inspired by artefacts and practice mindfulness. 

In the 2017 Creative Health Report, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts and Health and Wellbeing highlighted the positive impact that engaging with the arts can have on health and well-being, stating that ‘the time has come to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to our health and wellbeing’. It’s fantastic that the therapeutic aspects of cultural institutions are now being explored! 

Many museums’ Health and Well-being programmes are really successful at working with older audiences, but how can well-being projects also engage young people?

Health and well-being really is for all ages! Our Mindfulness Mondays is a wonderful workshop where we teach children how to relax, unwind and focus in a museum environment on the here and now – to become mindful of their surroundings and calm the mind. The feedback we received suggests that this was successful. When asked what they enjoyed, a participant said, ‘Using my senses to focus on the paintings and seeing details I wouldn’t normally see’ and ‘being encouraged to take time out to relax and enjoy looking at the work/objects in the moment.’

We have also run two successful projects for preschoolers and their parents: Music in Museums and Creative Movement. We selected this audience group based on findings from recent research on the phenomenon of ‘triple shifting’ – that juggling work, home and social life is becoming harder as is making time for ourselves. In both projects, children and their parents or carers explored the museum’s Collection and learned how to create dance movements and musical stories based on our artefacts. They particularly enjoyed learning about artefacts from the Collection during the active visits to the different galleries.

Any exciting upcoming projects to look out for?

As part of our National Portfolio Organisation project work, we have been filming all the different Health and Well-being work that we offer and this will be coming out in a Documentary in September – watch this space! The next project, starting in December, will be Art in Museums. 

You can find out more about our Health and Well-Being work here. 

Plus keep an eye on any vacancies at Canterbury Museums and Galleries on the Canterbury City Council website here.

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Artefacts in exhibition case The Beaney Museum

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