Mindfulness is a skill that is cultivated over time and with regular care. The people we work with at Manchester Art Gallery are invited to learn, develop and practise it within our gallery walls. For the past four years we have been developing mindfulness across our learning programmes and with different audiences, we have explored just how this valuable skill can be employed in the appreciation of art. In this way, we have helped people to engage more fully with our permanent collection as well as with our special exhibitions. In encountering familiar works as well as art that is entirely new to them, they have been able to reflect upon the importance of their own mental health.  Our learners includes adult mental health service users, primary school children, older people, newly qualified teachers and the long-term unemployed.

Through our projects and public workshops, we have been helping people to appreciate that mindfulness is both life-long and life-wide.  But the most important outcome is that they are encouraged to develop it independently in their everyday lives.  Progress occurs only when people decide to make changes in their world beyond our learning studios. A person may choose to be mindful at home, in their garden or at work and many have told us of the joy that the practice can bring in such settings. Additionally, people have reported on the usefulness of bringing mindful awareness to their workplaces as well as on the value of practising it on a busy tram! And so the process begins in the gallery but it does not end there.

Our work with mental health service users saw mindfulness provide a much needed tool they when they were coping with difficult emotions and thoughts. It seems to give people something to draw upon whenever they feel overwhelmed by the events of their day. 

In our work with public sector workers, we have seen that mindfulness can help people respond to the challenging changes they face and over which they feel that they have little control. 

Similarly, our work with schools has shown that mindfulness can help children to build up emotional resilience and self-worth. Thus empowered, they are more inclined to accept and value themselves for being just the way they are. With a quarter of a million children accessing mental health services in England today, we believe mindfulness is a necessary skill for children and young people today to learn in order to flourish and thrive as adults. 

Our drop-in lunchtime sessions have provided city-workers with important nourishment as well as respite from the noise and over-stimulation of the modern world. This gives them a moment away from the many pressures of their working environments. 

Older people have told us that mindfulness has helped them to see life in a new way and how they have become more aware of the curious, the strange and the beautiful. They are therefore enriched by the realisation that irrespective of age, there is still so much left to see and appreciate in the world. And they are able to do this with a renewed sense of wonder.  

Having integrated mindfulness across many of our learning strands, we have been able to develop a public health and wellbeing programme that is accessible and free to everyone. 

Cultural spaces can be places where anyone can learn wellbeing skills that help protect their mental health, strengthen their emotional resilience, increase their compassion and galvanise their ability to experience life to the fullest. 

In 2017 Manchester Art Gallery was launched as the UK’s first Mindful Museum. At the show, the Gallery will be running drop in drawing activities, on both days, where you make marks to music and sound. Notice when your attention has drifted away to something else other then your mark-making and gently return it back to listening and the act of drawing. Join artist Naomi Kendrick as she guides you in drawing to sound in a mindful way. Everyone welcome, especially those who think they can't draw!

Louise Thompson, Health and Wellbeing Manager, Manchester Art Gallery