Creatively minded at the museum

Creatively minded at the museum

By The Baring Foundation


How can museums engage creatively with people with mental health problems? This report published by The Baring Foundation with the Museums Association features 16 museums who are taking the lead in this area.

Targeted engagement by museums with people with mental health problems is relatively rare, despite a lot of interest in work around wellbeing and a strong commitment to inclusivity. However, targeted work is being done, and at the heart of this report are 16 self-reported case studies by museums who are taking a lead in this area. They include three mental health specialist museums:

  • Glenside Hospital Museum, Bristol
  • Mental Health Museum, Wakefield
  • Bethlem Museum of the Mind, London

And 13 non-specialist museums:

  • The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Canterbury
  • Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
  • Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea
  • The Foundling Museum, London
  • Glasgow Museums
  • The Holburne, Bath
  • Leeds Museums and Galleries
  • The Lightbox, Woking
  • National Galleries of Scotland
  • Salisbury Museum
  • Towner Eastbourne
  • Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
  • University of Edinburgh (Prescribe Culture)


This report was written to highlight targeted work by museums to engage people with mental health problems, especially using participatory arts. Although there have been a number of significant reports on museums, health and wellbeing more generally, there appears to be no other report solely focusing on work with people with mentalhealth problems.

The Introduction, after describing purpose and definitions, looks at the broad context for this work and its scale, as well as important underpinning principles such as support for staff, safeguarding, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and challenging mental health stigma. The heart of the report is 16 self-reported case studies. These are divided into three ‘specialist museums’ created from psychiatric roots, as well as a varied selection of ‘non-specialist’ museums, including national art collections and local more generalist museums.

Finally, acknowledging that this is a small selection of case studies, some general lessons are drawn. Any type of museum can undertake this work. The key to success is creating a good relationship with local mental health charities and the NHS. There are a wide variety of ways to engage participants from weekly workshops to paid training opportunities. These are rarely run by dedicated staff but by staff with other responsibilities in Learning and Engagement. Work usually takes place on site in the museum or in a community venue and only rarely on hospital wards. It is concluded overall that targeted work on mental health by museums is a relatively less developed area of
museum practice.

In the same way that inclusive museums need to ‘Family Friendly’ or ‘Age Friendly’, they should be also mental health aware, and this should include targeted work with people with mental health problems.


  1. There needs to be explicit recognition by individual institutions and infrastructure bodies with an interest in the museum sector that this is an important area which
    is currently under-developed.
  2. Valuing the lived experience and leadership of people with mental health problems, both staff and community members, is essential to developing work in this area.
  3. Museums should proactively reach out to the local NHS and voluntary sector bodies such as Mind to consider areas for collaboration. Targeted provision should be included in discussions.
  4. As a minimum, museums should ensure that relevant activities and displays are available for Mental Health Awareness Week (in May) and World Mental Health Day (10 October).
  5. Museums should consider training for staff such as Mental Health First Aid Training or Trauma Informed Practice, especially for Learning and Engagement staff.
  6. More showcasing events in the sector such as those run by the Holburne Museum in Bath to share good practice and increase visibility are needed along with more online guidance tools.
  7. A museum should take a leadership position in this area in the way that the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York did for work with people living with dementia.
  8. Museum funders should make clear the relevance of their funding for this work or offer dedicated funding pots. Wherever possible this should be long term funding.

Read the full report

Resource type: Case studies | Published: 2022