Museums, People and Covid-19

How we benefit from museums and what we may be missing out on due to Covid-19

Image from Pixabay

Whether as part of a school trip, a family outing or simply due to your own interests, most of us have been fortunate enough to step foot inside a museum at least once in our lifetimes. Some of us were excited while others were reluctant, dragging their feet on the ground as they followed the rest. Why did our schools and/or parents organize these trips? Why should we bother to do the same for ourselves as adults? Exposure to culture as such, namely attendance and/or participation in museums can provide major benefits to individual well-being.

According to a study conducted by a group of four museums/galleries in North Wales, “creative activity in museums has a significant beneficial impact on the mental wellbeing of people suffering from mental distress.” This is not to say however that the only people who should benefit are those who are mentally burdened. A visit to the museum proves to be advantageous to all. When in presence of various external stimuli, brain activity increases as a response. A study done by Semir Zeki, Professor of Neuroesthetics at University College London, provides evidence that looking at art has the “same chemical response as love.” The dopamine release gives people a feeling of pleasure. In addition, a trip to the museum is a chance to spend time among other human beings, which is especially important for anyone to experience to feel “good” given our species’ social nature. 

Being exposed to the arts, history (or whatever else the museum in question is offering) can inspire creativity in individuals. Creativity challenges and engages the mind, builds connections, generates curiosity, provides different ways of thinking and so much more. Exposure to arts and culture is of great importance, especially in younger individuals, as it nurtures the benefits of creative thinking that will help them develop into more well-rounded adults with a curiosity for life that others may not be fortunate enough to have. That being said, it is never too late in life to enjoy a visit at the museum and reap the benefits of inspiration!

In addition to releasing “feel-good” chemicals and generating creativity, museums are a place to learn. More importantly, museums provide a plethora of different ways of learning as opposed to the more traditional ones carried out in schools and other educational institutions. Why is this important? Whilst traditional learning methods may be seen as “generally effective”, it is paramount that individuals can also experience other ways in which it is possible to acquire knowledge and retain it. Like with most things, it is good to experience a change of pace or switch things up once in a while, why should we not do so with education as well? 

All that being said, it is crucial to consider how our current times play a role in our accessibility to these various benefits. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many cultural institutions are suffering. In a study conducted by NEMO (Network of European Museum Organizations) around the beginning of the crisis, approximately 92% of museums were closed. Big museums in tourist-frequented areas have reported a loss of 75-80% of income. It is as important to think about how all of us will be affected as well. Many studies have already been done about the negative impacts that the COVID-19 restrictions alone will have on individuals; a lack of benefits from cultural institutions (namely museums) could make these impacts worse. 

Nevertheless, not all hope is lost. Many museums and other cultural institutions have been working on adapting to the current times and launching virtual visit experiences. Even though it is far from an in-person experience, a virtual tour is still better than no tour at all. Whether you have access to museums in real life or online, there is no downside to experiencing a bit of arts and culture, so take advantage of all they have to offer!

Here are just a few online art initiatives to get you started:

  • Google Arts and Culture – an online platform on which you can view high-resolution images of arts and exhibitions from all over the world; created by Google partnering with various cultural institutions
  • Louvre Paris Virtual Tours – interactive “google maps” style tours in which you can visit exhibitions of your choosing from the comfort of your own home
  • The Met 360 Project – a series of 6 short videos which allow you to visit and tour various exhibits and art pieces found in the Met
  • Salvador Dali Museum Tour – a 3D virtual model of the Dali museum which permits you to visit and look around various rooms in any order you please!

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