Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Museums and Art Galleries as Partners for Public Health Interventions

Academic journal article Perspectives in Public Health

Museums and Art Galleries as Partners for Public Health Interventions

Article excerpt


well-being; social inclusion; health promotion; health inequalities; museums; art galleries; community-based interventions


The majority of public health programmes are based in schools, places of employment and in community settings. Likewise, nearly all health-care interventions occur in clinics and hospitals. An underdeveloped area for public health-related planning that carries international implications is the cultural heritage sector, and specifically museums and art galleries. This paper presents a rationale for the use of museums and art galleries as sites for public health interventions and health promotion programmes through discussing the social role of these organisations in the health and well-being of the communities they serve. Recent research from several countries is reviewed and integrated into a proposed framework for future collaboration between cultural heritage, health-care and university sectors to further advance research, policy development and evidence-based practice.


Most public health practitioners and researchers are probably not likely to consider the heritage sector, and specifically museums and art galleries, as venues for interventions focused on health and well-being, two areas directly related to public health policy and programming. This article begins with a rationale as to why museums and galleries offer the possibility to be good partners to carry out public health policy initiatives; this is followed by a discussion about the social role that museums/galleries can play in health care, along with some examples of recent research. We conclude by presenting a framework for museum and gallery involvement with recommendations about future engagement.

Throughout much of the world, health-care treatment is delivered in clinics and hospitals while health promotion and illness prevention activities mostly occur in schools, community organisations and the workplace. While these are suitable locations that reach a great many people, there are other organisations and sectors that could be approached as partners in public health research and practice development. One such potential partner is the cultural heritage sector, a segment of which comprises museums and art galleries. (The term 'museums' will be used here to encompass art galleries and museums.) There are over 19,300 museums throughout the European Economic Area (EU member states, Norway and Switzerland)1 and about the same number in Canada and the USA,2 which make these organisations well placed to reach a diverse population across rural and urban settings.

Museums have experienced a great deal of change in recent years and many have become more aware of the needs and interests of their local communities3 while also expanding the types of activities offered, including the development of in-house programmes and outreach activities to those who are often socially excluded from participation due to a range of exclusionary practices and circumstances.4,5,52 Possibly unknown to the health-care sector, numerous museums currently offer innovative programmes that seek to address challenging health-care problems, offer support to caregivers and provide education, often within an aesthetically pleasing environment. Some of these programmes, activities and research studies, for example, have addressed health and well-being issues such as mental health problems,7,8 dementia,9-12 cancer, 13,14 lifelong learning for older adults,15,16 health education17 and social capital.18

While museums can sometimes be intimidating places, they are nearly always non-stigmatising settings in that they are not institutions where diagnosis and treatment of medical and mental health problems occur, nor are they settings where one experiences embarrassment, shame or criticism for attending. Museums can be places that encourage people to learn about themselves, their culture and society, and the larger world around them. …

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